Waiting for QB call

8-24-02, 6:00 p.m.

The Bengals are ranked first in the NFL preseason in defense, but Bengaldom is on the offensive with head coach Dick LeBeau set to decide his Opening Day quarterback on Monday.

A sampling of Hobson's Choice as the Bengals try to go 3-0 in the preseason for the first time since the never-never land of '88:

What about the idea of moving Akili to second on the depth chart so he can continue to get snaps and a chance to play? We have to let him have another shot somehow. **Jerry, Chicago.

JERRY: Barring an event of black headline proportions, Smith goes into the season as the No. 3 quarterback. And that's a problem for a guy who looks like he's responding. Being No. 3 could stifle his development because that spot virtually gets no reps during the regular season. Which is exactly what put Smith in a funk last year, but it seems like he won't be as expressive this season.**

The QB decision appears pretty straight forward to me. Kitna has looked sharp running the offense. With two years in the system now, he and the receivers appear markedly different from last year. Frerotte has appeared to struggle a bit in games. And Smith has shown brilliance against second-

team defenders on two teams who are going to be playing us during the season.

His reads may have been easier playing against vanilla defensive plans because those teams don't wish to show us too much. I think Akili's time off from his injuries may have helped more than hurt him. They gave him time to study the system and get it straight in his mind.

I think Kitna should get the nod, with Frerotte getting some time to (adjust) to the offense. Let's get Akili some snaps against some first- teamers, and if he still shows that magic, then you have to consider moving him up from there. Until then, it should be Kitna, Frerotte, Smith, in that order. **Craig, Lebanon, Ohio.

CRAIG: That's what it looks to be as they head into Saturday's Saints' game. But the problem seems now that in their effort to be fair to all three guys, they have risked not getting any of them prepared for the regular season.

It is great to get Smith the work he missed during the spring because of his hamstring injury, but how can you judge him on one quarter against first-teamer? And how can you judge Kitna and Frerotte when they haven't played more than three series or a quarter in any one game?

Club insiders think Frerotte has picked up the system well enough and it doesn't seem to be an issue. His two interceptions this preseason haven't been because he threw to the wrong guys.**

As a season ticket holder it has continually gotten more and more frustrating watching this team's offensive scheme. I thought maybe this year might be different because the same coordinator is in place for a second year but the play calling so far in preseason looks just like the playcalling the last several years.

We never attempt a pass over five yards. Warrick is never used on any pattern over 15 yards. We will go deep (20 or more yards) once a game and when that fails we are back to the same old run plays and outlet passes to the backs, or a three-yard pass to a receiver. It has gotten so predictable it isn't funny. When will the coaches wake up and start to use the very talented receivers we have? Mix the game plan up some, throw more than one deep route in a game, and use some trick plays other than Warrick running a reverse. I am very surprised the receivers haven't complained openly more than they have.

Any defense in the league can key on our running backs the entire game and take away our passing game. I would like to know when we will have an offense worth watching. I get tired of the excuse "well, they are young." They have been young since 1990. How long does it take a team to mature enough to trust them with a more exciting scheme? Thanks. **Joe, Florence, Ky.

JOE: The preseason is a difficult time to judge an offensive scheme because the defenses are so vanilla that they usually don't allow for big plays because there are so few blitzes. Plus, every team they play in the preseason they also play in the regular season this year. So while offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has vowed to get Warrick in more packages, he certainly won't tip his hand now with Warrick, or anything else.

Plus, three of the six regular receivers have been out since all but the second series of the opener.

That said, there is no question they have to show more creativity and consistency getting down field. Last year's 4.9 yards per pass would be at the bottom of the Fort Ancient Valley Conference, too.

They should show flashes against the Saints because New Orleans head coach Jim Haslett has some Steelerish concepts about the blitz that make big plays possible.

But reserve judgment on the passing game until the first two real games instead of the first two in the preseason and write back.**

HOW MANY PLAYERS ARE LEFT BEFORE FINAL CUTS ARE MADE? WHO DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE LAST PERSON THEY CUT? **Fred, Hebron, Ky.

FRED: The Bengals usually have to cut 12 (from 65 to 53) to get to the magic number. Since they cut in bunches, there won't be a last guy. But among the final cuts, there could be a kicker, running back, or cornerback who didn't expect to get axed.**

Why not rotate quarterbacks through the season? Since all three primary Bengal QBs have different styles, keeping the opposition off balance by not knowing which QB they will face could be a big advantage. Also, one QB's style could be better suited against a particular team than another. **Rich, Cincinnati.

RICH: We may be closer to that world than we think after LeBeau's "Fire When Ready," news conference back on Tuesday in which he basically said he's going to have a hook quicker than Sparky Anderson's.

But that philosophy has never translated into championships. Kitna has already lobbied against it, Frerotte is leery about it, and it would be hard to find any offensive coach in the NFL who would embrace it because of the preparation that is needed during the week to get just one QB ready.**

I am happy that the Bengals are 2-0 in the preseason. I am concerned, however, that the first team defense has given up several big plays and allowed the opposition an early lead in both games. Is there concern at camp over the play of the first team defense? **Doug, Cleveland, TN.

DOUG: People were feeling a lot better this past week in Indy than they were after the opener in Buffalo.

Yes, Peyton Manning drove the Colts down the field on the game's first drive, but the Bengals had some penalties that kept it alive and Manning only hurt them on third down, which they think they can correct. But their pass rush (Reinard Wilson) forced the drive-stopping interception they never got last year, and Manning and his receivers did nothing in the next two series that consisted of about only 10 plays. The first defense virtually pitched a shutout with the 10 first-half points coming off turnovers.**

Has Rudi Johnson proved himself as the replacement for Corey when he retires or slows down? This guy is excellent and he seems to run like Corey, so will he give him breaks? **Ernie, Covington, Ohio.

ERNIE: You'll no doubt see more of Johnson this year, but if he's the No. 1 backup, he's also got big shoes to fill there because Brandon Bennett averaged 4.6 yards per his 50 carries last year spelling Dillon.

Plus, who ever backs up Dillon has a long wait in Cincinnati. When Dillon's contract is up in four years, Johnson will be 26 himself.**

Jeff, I was in Chicago last week, and happened to hear a couple of hours discussion on the Bears Seems that they have a problem with left tackle, and one of the sportscasters said he thought the Bears would end up with Richmond Webb. Any chance the Bengals would part with him? Would seem like a bad idea to me. **Jim, Loveland, Ohio.

JIM: The Bears might get him, but it won't be until next year because it is doubtful the Bengals would play Webb's $4 million salary in '03. Yet even if they decide to start Levi Jones Opening Day, they have to keep Webb around for insurance because he's the only other regular left tackle on the roster**

Guys, what happened to Pig Prather? He was highly rated during the 2001 college season, before he hurt his (knee). When did the Bengals cut him and why? I thought he would be a good prospect to attempt to hold onto. What happened? **Tim, Atlanta.

TIM: Prather, an undrafted free agent safety from Mississippi State, left the club the first week of training camp and decided not to return for personal reasons.**

Are the Bengals going to go short handed at OL, DL and DB to carry extra skill position players, or waiting for injuries to decide the roster? **Ed, Dayton, Ohio.

ED: Probably a little of both. The position of which you write is running back. If they keep six backs, which means the trio of backup tailbacks behind Dillon stays, they have to go one shy at one of those spots. They could go either way with two games left.**

How are the Bengals suppose to select a QB from the pre-season performances? I have not seen a pass thrown for more than 10 yards in the air. They keep dumping the ball over the middle. You can't pick a starter based on this. What do you think? **Jeff, Cincinnati, Ohio.

JEFF: Good point. That's the tough thing about a QB derby in the preseason. The DBs don't want to get beat, so they're playing back so they don't get released if they get fried. Maybe the QBs are a little too hesitant to pull the string for fear a mistake hurts them in the competition.

But people have seen enough in two months of voluntary camps and training camp to know who can do what.

**

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