Bengals hand keys to Kitna with confidence

Jon Kitna aims to make the most-watched position in football a non-issue in training camp.

Jon Kitna aims to make the most-watched position in football a non-issue in training camp.

For the first time in his three years with the Cincinnati Bengals, Kitna will enter camp as the starting quarterback. He does not face a "quarterback competition," which he encountered in 2001 (Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith) and 2002 (Gus Frerotte and Smith).

The position is its most stable since Smith entered camp as the starter in 2000, even though three-fourths of the position is new since the Dec. 29 season finale at Buffalo.

Smith (Packers), Frerotte (Vikings) and Joe Germaine are gone. Only Kitna remains, joined by 10-year veteran Shane Matthews (Redskins), Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer (Southern California) and free agent rookie Tommy
Jones (Indiana University).

Kitna will lose the job, as Smith did in 2000, if the offense bottoms out. But if the offense can maintain its production in Kitna's 12 starts in 2002, and possibly build on that, only injury will knock him off the field.

After scoring just 16 offensive points in the first four games, the Bengals averaged 21.3 points in Kitna's 12 starts.

A more optimistic measure was yards. The Bengals gained 350 yards in eight games under Kitna, and projected over a 16-game schedule, Kitna's offense would have been eighth in total yards (357.3), seventh in passing (240.1), eighth in completion percentage (63.0) and 10th in averaged times sacked (1.9).

To his credit, Kitna last summer said he would accept a backup role if Frerotte or Smith were named starter heading into camp. He proved prophetic.

With snaps evenly distributed in training camp practices and Smith getting the bulk of the work in preseason games, Frerotte was not ready when the season opened. Smith was elevated from No. 3 to starter for one game against Tampa Bay (no offensive points).

Five offensive players with at least 40 receptions (Chad Johnson, Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans, Corey Dillon and T.J. Houshmandzadeh) all return. The Bengals added tight end Reggie Kelly in free agency and potential third receiver Kelley Washington and left guard Eric Steinbach in the draft.

"The return of offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski for a third consecutive year also should help," Kitna says.

An area that needs improvement is red-zone performance. Of their 42 possessions, the Bengals scored just 19 touchdowns (27th in the league) and 10 field goals.

If Kitna can stabilize the position, more attention can be paid to other need areas, such as the defensive line and special teams.

Scout NFL Network Top Stories