Wit vs. wing

8-2-02, 3:45 p.m.

Updated: 8-3-02, 12:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ It's Jon Kitna's wits against Gus Frerotte's wing Saturday in the Bengals intrasquad scrimmage edition of the club's seemingly endless quarterback derby.

Kitna gets the start after a week of practice in which Frerotte has impressed at Georgetown College with his sizzling arm strength in a display that some club insiders think has put him in the lead. But the coaches are still saying it's an even competition and, as usual, Kitna is hanging in there with grit and smarts and the other things he has been known to occasionally call "ugly."

"Yeah, I think Gus' arm is better than mine," said Kitna before Friday's practice. "But my thing is I don't

necessarily throw it as hard as I have to all the time. There are times I'll pick and choose my spots to drill it. My thing is to be on time. If I'm on time, I don't have to drill it as hard as I have to. If you're going to be on time, it helps knowing the system and the guys."

Which he didn't last year, when he also started the scrimmage in a game dominated by the defense, 14-0. In 11 plays, Kitna completed four of seven passes for 34 yards before throwing an interception at the defense's four yard line. Kitna has been hearing it from the defense, which has been telling him this week that the offense hasn't won in 10 years. They don't keep records, but who could doubt it?

"Just execute and score a touchdown," said Kitna of his goal.

That wasn't exactly his approach last year, when he thought he had to light it up in order to start the pre-season opener. But then, he hasn't approached this camp like he has the last one, either.

"I see it as the first step. Then come the pre-season games," Kitna said. "I think last year I felt like I had to do really well (in the scrimmage). I think last year I put all my energy into winning the job and I didn't prepare as well as I should have for a 16-game season. This year, I just think we're more comfortable all the way around."

Asked to compare where the offense is today compared to July 28, 2001, he can only draw on one experience.

"My son and my daughter," he said of when Jordan and Jada were learning to walk. "When they were nine months old, they were hanging on tables and kind of feeling their way. They had it, but couldn't necessarily do it. They could quote unquote walk, but it just took them forever to get there and that was us last year. Now, when that baby is 12 months old like my kids were, they figured out how to make the feet move in coordination with the hands and they were gone, getting from point to point in half the time. Last year, we had to hold on to things."

This year, their most veteran receiver, Michael Westbrook, won't be able to hold onto a ball for the preseason and not many in the first couple of regular-season games. Which leaves them with only one speed receiver in Chad Johnson. But Kitna, who was often at odds with the young wideouts last year, likes the look of the receivers this time around, particularly T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

"He's not as fast as Darnay (Scott), but Darnay is an elite guy when it comes to speed," Kitna said. "T.J. is fast enough. He runs great routes and he gets open. Same thing with the receivers. Look at the film and they're so much farther along than last year."

**

INJURY UPDATE:** There's a good chance the Bengals will line up at Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage without Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon (foot), defensive captain Takeo Spikes (hamstring), and leading receiver Peter Warrick, doubtful after pulling his right quad in Friday's practice.

The Bengals like to keep Dillon, who worked in Friday's pad-less practice, under wraps until the third pre-season game. It also means that wide receiver Chad Johnson would get the work at Warrick's flanker spot.

T.J.Houshmandzadeh gets the start at split end in place of Michael

Westbrook and Ron Dugans, upgraded to probable with Achilles tendonitis, will play only in the slot in four-receiver sets.

It doesn't look like Spikes' sore hamstring got any worse in Friday's pad-less practice, but it doesn't look like he's going to play at right outside linebacker. Armegis Spearman, in his first outing since a season-ending pectoral injury, most likely will. Canute Curtis gets the call at left outside linebacker for Steve Foley, out with a hip flexor. Backup cornerback Rodney Heath continues to have a tough camp. After successfully rehabbing his severly torn hamstring, Heath suffered another tweak Friday after sitting out a few days with a sore ankle and he may not play.

The scrimmage starts at 1 p.m. with introductions and drills, and the the first snap follows at about 1:45. New wide receiver Michael Westbrook, out fout to six weeks, won't be here because of a death in his family. **

COOL CALL:** With temperatures in the 100s predicted for next week, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau moved Monday's afternoon practice to the evening, from 7:30-9:30. They will still have a skills session at 11 a.m., but it's closed to the public. The Georgetown College complex opens at 5:30 p.m. The Bengals picked a good short week of practice out of the heat in prepping for Friday's pre-season opener in Buffalo. Their last practice, on Wednesday, is also at night.

CONTRACT STUFF: The Bengals and the agents for linebackers Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes are keeping a dialogue open with the club. Simmons' agent, Jerrold Colton, has had talks this week with executive vice president Katie Blackburn and is encouraged enough to give it another go next week.

The NFL spent Friday reeling from the seven-year, $50 million deal Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis

pulled down with a $19 million bonus. But after viewing the numbers,

the Bengals still weren't sure how it would affect their talks with Spikes and Simmons. Bengals President Mike Brown doesn't think it will.

"I'm not about to argue that what we've offered them is the Ray Lewis deal," Brown said. "But I am prepared to argue what we are offering makes sense for our two guys and for us and I think we'll continue to talk and get something done.'

Brown wouldn't comment on how Lewis' deal was structured and how much is actually guaranteed. By giving Lewis the $9.5 million he was to earn over the next two seasons in salary in one lump sum, the Ravens were able to clear about $2 million in cap room. After the deal was done, Lewis called on defensive tackle Sam Adams to sign up after a free-agency run included a visit with and an offer from the Bengals.

"It's hard to see what the impact will be," Brown said. "They needed the room to sign their first–round pick."

It's the kind of deal the Bengals detest because so much money is pro-rated into future years. It's also the kind of deal that forced the Ravens to leave Lewis with a defense that no longer has linebacker Jamie Sharper, safety Rod Woodson, cornerback Duane Starks, and they nearly lost Adams because of cap problems ignited by future deals.

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