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Mended Klingler is primed for a new start


CINCINNATI -- He used to be the main man. Now he's just another face in the crowd.

David Klingler isn't the starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals now. That honor belongs to Jeff Blake.

But Klingler finally is healthy again and a strong arm breeds confidence and competition.

Klingler, who had surgery Jan. 3 to remove bone spurs and cartilage damage in his right elbow, is throwing to a moving target for the first time since October and reporting no pain.

"I rehabbed my whole arm in the off-season and decided to get in better shape," he said. "I'm in a lot better condition and my arm feels better than at any time last year. There's some rust there, but it's a good start. The arm's not sore."

His feelings aren't sore, either.

Klingler, who hurt his shoulder in March 1994 and injured his elbow in the preseason, suffered a season-ending injury in a 37-13 defeat at Cleveland on Oct. 23.

Blake revived the offense and led Cincinnati to three victories in nine starts as the Bengals finished 3-13 for the third time in four years.

Klingler, meanwhile, withdrew. He disappeared from the locker room after games. You couldn't find him.

"Looking back now," he said, "I might have been about 50 percent. But I was willing to be out there. It's just tough knowing you're not going to be able to throw."

Look at Klingler now. He's relaxed and in a much better mood, laughing and joking with teammates during a voluntary minicamp this week.

He said he will approach '95 "the same as any season. I'll go in and prepare in any way I can to help the team whether it's in a starting capacity, backup capacity or whatever. I'm going to work to be the starter."

Klingler made it clear he harbors no bitterness toward Blake.

"Winning has a lot to do with attitude," he said. "When Jeff went in, we won some games, spirits lift and things that seem bad don't seem quite as bad. There's a difference in the atmosphere.

"You've got to give [Blake] a lot of credit. He's working at it. Whatever happens this year, we'll both be better for it."

Does Klingler worry about getting a chance at winning the quarterback job back?

"I really don't," he said. "I can only worry about what I can control. That's getting healthy, improving and getting ready to play. If it's going to be a deal where I don't get a shot, then I've done all I can do.

"I feel confident I can go in and operate and move the team. I feel confident I'll be able to compete a lot better than last year. But I've quit worrying about what everybody else says. I'm going to take care of what I can do. As long as I concentrate on that, I'll be OK."

Blake doesn't feel threatened by Klingler or backups Erik Wilhelm and John Walsh.

"I don't view it as a competitive type job," Blake said. "Right now, I'm running No. 1. As far as I'm concerned, I'm No. 1 until Coach [Dave] Shula and [offensive coordinator] Bruce Coslet tell me something different."

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