8-8-03, 5 a.m. **
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ For the first time, Jon Kitna is the No. 1 quarterback at Georgetown College, home of the perennial NAIA football powerhouse. A nice fit, really, since eight years ago Kitna led Central Washington to the NAIA championship game as a first-team All-American. Kitna took a break from his third training camp with the Bengals and sat down with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com in revealing he still has the survival instincts of a small college player despite his depth-chart status.**
GH:Welcome as the No. 1 starter in camp. Third season must be the charm.
JK:Nope. I'm not looking at it that way. You're always competing.
GH:Coach Lewis said the starters would play the first quarter against the Jets. Do you expect to play only that quarter?
JK:What they have said to us is the starters will play the first quarter and things will trickle down from there. That's pretty standard around the league. Hopefully, as an offense we can have a couple of eight-to-10 play drives in the first quarter and then be done. That would be the optimal drives for us.
GH:You've already talked about how good it is for the offense to know who the starting quarterback is right away.
JK:There's continuity there. Instead of playing with those three receivers, that offensive line, these running backs, you know who and what to expect. We've been together three years now for the most part and we understand each other really well.
GH:Are you looking over your shoulder with Carson Palmer back there?
JK:I can t say it enough, and I will continue to say it. I don't put a lot of credence in what coaches and management say. "This is our guy." Because that can change quickly. If God wants me to be quarterback for this team, I will be. There' s no reason for me to play looking over my shoulder because God is in control.
GH:How does Palmer look to you?
JK:I didn't think a rookie could be that good, to be honest. The reason I say that is you've got guys that can throw the ball like he does. You've got guys that can make reads against a defense. But very seldom can you see a guy this early in his first year be able to get to his third and fourth receivers as quickly as he does. That just tells me he has an understanding of the offense and an understanding of football, so he s really surprised not just me, I just think anyone didn't think he could play that well now. He's doing a good job."
GH:You had the best season of your career last year even though you didn't play much in training camp and didn't start playing until Week 5. If you had played the whole season, you would have become the first Bengals quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards. How did you play so well given those circumstances and what can you do this season?
JK:**The big thing was I was a year older. It seems the older you get, the more patient you get, the smarter you get. The other big thing was the players around me played well. They played a lot better than they did the year before. They were in the system and in the league for two or three years. They were just making plays. When it comes down to the quarterback position, it's having guys around you that can make plays that make you look good.
I feel very confident where I'm at. I really feel this is kind of the beginning of the peak of my career. I just feel like I'm in a position I can make good decisions with the football and put this team in position to win. As a quarterback, Brad Johnson went to the Pro Bowl last year with 3,100 yards (3,049) and 20 (22) touchdowns. (Kitna threw for 3,178 yards and 16 touchdowns). But the reason he went is they won. That's the thing you want to do as a quarterback. I want to go to the Pro Bowl. It's a goal of mine, but the most important thing to me is giving this team a chance to win week in and week out.
I don't sit down and put numbers down because I think that limits yourself. I just want to go out and feel like I prepared the best I can and compete the best that I can on the field and the numbers will take care of themselves. **
GH:I guess you feel like you're at your peak given you have three years in the system, the guys around you, the fact you have the job by yourself.
JK:It's kind of what I've been waiting for, and I just feel very blessed.
GH:Look back at Dec. 30 and you'd have to say the locker room was in revolt and it was in chaos after the season. Could you have possibly imagined back then that the franchise is widely-regarded as having one of the best offseasons in the NFL and the new coach would have the team and public feeling so good?
JK:**Toward the end of last year, the last third of the season everyone is pretty familiar with my walk with Christ and my faith and I really had a good talk with God about what was happening around us. How we were losing games just wasn't natural. Stuff you don't see in this league.
I just had a good talk with God, and really felt a peace because he was going to change things. The bottom had to fall out for things to change. As disappointing that was with five games to go, that is how it had to be. You battle to go out and compete, but the bottom has to fall out of it to change. There was a lot of peace of mind on knowing it was about to change, I think you're seeing the fruit of that.
I think that produces character when you're part of a great change like that. The guys who were here had to go through the battles, guys that have been here before me, guys that were here last year during 2-14 and the frustration in that. Trying to find different ways to explain how we lost. How you do some of the things you do on the field. There's going to be a day we're going to benefit of having to go through that. I think that will be soon. **
GH:Even though you took on management, the club gave you the $1.6 million play-time bonus in spite, technically being just shy of taking 80 percent of the snaps last year. That may have been the first step in re-building things.
JK:**I really believe I was misconstrued as taking on management. I wasn't taking on management. My whole point was what needed to happen was there had to be a change in attitude in the locker room. For the 53 guys that were on the field every Sunday, that had to be changed. The attitude had to change. The expectation had to change. The only way to get those kinds of changes done was to go out and hire a guy like Marvin who isn't going to put up with that.
If you don't have the right attitude, if you don't expect to win, if you're not for the better of the team, he'll get rid of you. There might be talented players, but that's nothing if they're not for the good of the team. I wasn't challenging them. I was just saying that had to come from them.
It looked like I was challenging them to a lot of people because that's what they were looking for, but I wasn't trying to challenge them. I was just saying what had to be done. **
GH:It got done. How would you describe the first 10 days or so of Marvin's camp?
JK:**Very professional. Very intense. Basically, we have a live period every day. Tackling Corey (Dillon), which hadn't been done in two years here. Corey hadn't played except to start the season. That's when Corey would play. He's out there in the scrimmages, they're tackling him, they're hitting him, and so that just kind of lets everyone know that we're all on the same team here.
And Marvin's done a great job of getting guys to buy in so far to what he's trying to accomplish and where he's trying to take this.
Anytime you're fighting, and Marvin is fighting 13 years of this, too , and trying to get that out of guys' minds, it's a painful birth that has to take place, but there's joy when the birth does take place. **
GH:It seemed like what you guys were looking for back in December was a guy who would not let it be a country club, where it was professional and focused. He seems to have done that.
JK:** What we really needed to have happen, perception or not, the perception in the locker room was that Coach LeBeau was not in control of the team. When it ultimately came down to it, he wasn't the guy calling the shots. Whether that was true or not, that was the perception and that is definitely not the perception now.
Everybody understands that the person you have to answer to is Marvin. There's no getting around it, no going over that, no flying under that. That is the one man you answer to. All the coaches answer to him. It's very obvious that way. He's really done a good job and we have to continue to buy into that and when the first bit of adversity comes, and it might come in the first game, and we might be down, 14-0, how are we going to handle that? Are we going to stick it out when it goes bad? Or are we going to say, 'Here we go again?' Hopefully that's not the case. **
GH:When you got the $1.6 million incentive, I imagine you gave some to your church back in Washington and other groups.
JK:We give 10 percent of my salary to our church and 10 percent to charities. The shock me and my wife had when they told us a couple of weeks after the season that they were going to give us that bonus because they felt like I earned it, there was shock there, but we were just blessed. The first thing we talked about on the way home was how much more we were going to be able to give. How exciting it is to give.
GH:When Mike (Brown) did that back in January, there was a sense that things were turning a little bit. Did you feel that in your mind?
JK:The thing they stated in their letter to me is they wanted this to be a signal of the changes that were going to take place and the other thing they said was they really felt that I earned it. That's why it was put in the contract. Not necessarily a cut-and-dried 80 percent. A point below or a point above 80 percent 'Were you our guy?" and that was the case, so I didn't' expect it. I had forgotten all about it and was very thankful they decided to give it me, obviously.
GH:Seems like Marvin is doing everything possible to stop the classic slow start at 17-74 in September and October since '91.
JK:**We're establishing our identity in all three phases of the game. Our special teams coach is all over it. He's got those guys going full speed. The first time you go full speed isn't in a preseason game. Our defense is sticking to what they do. They're not game planning against us. They're just getting better at what they do.
Offensively, we've established the identity . Here is our starter, here are our starters, and we're just going to roll with it. There may be a guy who is maybe a little more talented, but this is where we're going and what we're doing. On that Opening Day, there won't be a question of who's in there, and maybe we should be doing this. Hey, this is what we do. We're going to make it work and we're just going to be better than the other team in how we execute it.