8-2-02, 3:45 p.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 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 these receivers the second 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."