Swinging spring

Posted May 14, 2010

Darrin Simmons

Tiger Woods may be looking for a swing coach, but the Bengals kickers already have one in this spring of tinkering.

With special teams coach Darrin Simmons staring at his first season in eight years without kicker Shayne Graham, and Dave Rayner on the shelf with a hip flexor, Simmons is working on Mike Nugent’s technique. Nugent is just one of his projects when the club’s on-field sessions resume next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Simmons also has on his hands a guy that had one of the greatest special-teams seasons in history four seasons ago when cornerback Adam Jones broke three punts for touchdowns for the Titans. Before Nugent got injured early in the 2008 season, he had rung up 81.5 percent field-goal accuracy for the Jets that would project to the NFL’s top 20 all-time. If Simmons can get both guys back to that while also working with Rayner, talk about adding some weapons.

“Mike’s been very receptive to some of the things we’ve been tweaking and that says a lot about anyone,” Simmons said. “He hasn’t done much in the last couple of years after those (three) seasons in New York, so he’s still got a pretty fresh leg. Mike is still a young guy (28).”

Simmons says Rayner is working hard to get back into the mix and his message to both has been that there are reasons they are here and “have a quote unquote gig of their own.” But there is opportunity here. When Nugent came out of Ohio State as a second-round pick in 2005 Simmons said, “He was one of the best kickers I’ve seen come out in several years.”

“Kickers have always been the sort of guys that have their own way of doing things, so it’s more like a golf swing coach,” Simmons said. “We’re not looking to make wholesale changes because they’ve got to be good just to make it this far. But it’s little things that we’re doing for his consistency. If you’re consistent making field goals, those are the guys that usually have jobs. “

No, Simmons isn’t available for Woods.

“I’ll stick with what I know,” he said and what he knows is that Jones could be a huge factor returning punts and kickoffs. The day Jones signed, Simmons delved into the archives and discovered that Jones has 12 fumbles.

“We’re going to sit down and watch every one of those,” Simmons said. “I haven’t told him that yet. I want him to get his feet wet, get acclimated. He was what you expected (last week catching punts). He’s a natural catch of the ball. The guy is obviously a great athlete. You have to be to have the kind of year he had (in ’06) and I’m looking forward to seeing if we can get that out of him.”

JUMP PART II:  Simmons, linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald and administrative assistant Sandy Schick took the big leap Friday morning when they did a tandem parachute jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights at Warren County Airport in Lebanon, Ohio.

The original jump on Wednesday that also included head coach Marvin Lewis, secondary coach Kevin Coyle, and director of player development Eric Ball got rained out and those three already had commitments on Friday.

“The word exhilarating would be an understatement,” Simmons said after a free-fall drop of 8,000 feet. “What a great feeling to just drop like that. It was funny because I’ve done those drop zones at amusement parks where your stomach is in your mouth, but I didn’t feel like that at all.

“And I didn’t notice the ground rushing up quickly or anything like that. I’m sure it was, but we were so far up I couldn’t see it. In fact, when he pulled the cord at 5,000 feet I was thinking, ‘No, wait some more.’ ”

But the ride down from 5,000 feet was another rush.

“It’s amazing how peaceful it was up there as we were floating down. There’s not much going on up there,” Simmons said. “We were doing circles and twists and I got a chance to steer it with two cords for a little bit.”

Simmons couldn’t fathom doing a jump by himself and doubts he’ll ever get this chance again, and he’s glad he took it.

“I had respect for those guys before, but when you see them in action and how well they’re trained, I just have a lot more now," he said. "There are guys that have done it 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 times. They do it every day. But they all remember that first jump.”

So can Simmons.

For her part, Schick drew the top of the line with a soldier that jumped with former president George H.W. Bush, and he was stunned that she wasn’t nervous.

“Do you get nervous over anything?” Schick was asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Bengals games.”

LONG SHOT: The latest on JaMarcus Russell?

There is no latest. There don’t appear to be any plans at the moment to look at the free-agent quarterback. One fear appears to be that he’s seen as a developmental guy and that the Bengals don’t have room for a project. Russell coming to Cincinnati is being described more and more as a “longshot.”

But there is someone in Cincy that knows him well. Russell roomed with left tackle Andrew Whitworth on the road while they were at LSU and the Bengals tackle is not sure what to make of Russell’s predicament.

“He’s got to be around people he trusts and going to Oakland was the worst possible thing that could have happened to him,” Whitworth said. “He always needs his people around him. He lost his uncle, the closest person he had for a lifetime next to his college teammates. Look at Ced (Benson). He struggled in Chicago, but he came here where people that had his back and they earned his trust and he’s been a great player.”

But Whitworth worries about his friend even if he does go to that kind of place. He took a double take when Russell got cut even though former Bengals receivers coach and Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson is now the Raiders offensive coordinator.

“I know Hue J. is an upbeat guy that believes in people and if he didn’t feel comfortable with him, does he want to try?” Whitworth wondered. “Hue worked well with guys that were supposedly troubled and look what he did with a young quarterback like Joe Flacco.

“(Russell and I) text and catch up when we see each other. I haven’t talked to him enough to know if he cares that much. Some guys get to a point in different parts of their careers, and I don’t know where he’s at, but I do know this: he’s extremely talented.”

When Russell was a freshman, Whitworth recalled the Friday walkthrough was a huge event because the minute they took the field, someone would give Russell a ball and see how far he could throw it.

“It was a show, now,” Whitworth said. “It was the Fourth of July. It was fireworks. He could get it 85 yards in the air. He could go around the country putting on a show with his arm. I think he’s got great potential and I think he can still make it.”

But it doesn’t look like here right now.


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