Lewis may open up QB controversy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2004

CINCINNATI - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says he hopes to choose either incumbent Jon Kitna or challenger Carson Palmer as Cincinnati's starting quarterback before players report in May for an off-season camp.

''We're probably going to make a decision and say, 'This is the way we're going to go,''' Lewis said.

Lewis doesn't plan to publicly announce his decision before the Bengals' mini-camp May 15-16.

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He decided last February that the starting job was Kitna's to lose. Kitna wound up with a career-high 26 touchdown passes and was selected as a second alternate for the Pro Bowl. He was the only NFL quarterback to play on all of his team's offensive snaps in 2003.

Lewis said he prefers to make an early commitment to a starter at quarterback, rather than have a competition and questions about who the eventual starter will be.

''I just think that is better for our football team and, you know, the best for us to go forward,'' he said.

The Bengals finished 8-8 and stayed in contention until the Baltimore Ravens clinched the AFC North title.

The prior year, Cincinnati had a franchise-worst 2-14 record and fired coach Dick LeBeau, hiring Lewis to succeed him. The Bengals haven't made the playoffs or had a winning record since 1990.

Despite Kitna's strong performance in 2003, Lewis did not commit the starting job to Kitna in remarks at the coach's post-season news conference on Dec. 29. Lewis' comments left open the possibility that Palmer could become the starter.

Palmer, the former Southern California star, was Cincinnati's first-round draft pick in 2003. He wound up on the sidelines for all of his rookie NFL season, watching Kitna play.

Palmer said during the season that he has a positive relationship with Kitna and has learned from him.

In three seasons with the Bengals, Kitna has started 43 games after spending the first part of his NFL career with Seattle. During the past two seasons, Kitna has thrown 42 touchdown passes and 31 interceptions.

Kitna, a seven-year veteran, said he understands the Bengals' dilemma. Kitna said he appreciates Lewis' desire to commit to a starter at quarterback.

''They're not in the most enviable position,'' Kitna said of the Bengals. ''They draft the No. 1 quarterback, and then the other quarterback goes out and comes on with the team."

''If they want to go another direction, I'm not going to sit here and campaign for the job,'' Kitna said. ''I've seen what happens when you don't settle on a guy. Training camp competitions are not good for the team.''