8-15-02, 9:25 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Rookie kicker Travis Dorsch returns to his fruited plain of Indiana Saturday knowing full well that veteran Neil Rackers has the edge in the race for the roster spot.
"He came in as the incumbent and he's done nothing to lose it," Dorsch said after Wednesday's practice.
Yet the Purdue All-American's trip to the RCA Dome in Indianapolis coincides with his best three days of practice since he arrived here as the Bengals' fourth-round draft pick.
"I've done better this week than the first two weeks and it's a comfort level," Dorsch said. "I feel a little more comfortable with the guys around me. The snapper, the holder, the coaches."
But make no mistake about it. Last Friday night in Buffalo, Dorsch was upset and did what most angry people do. He shot the messenger.
It was Dorsch's turn to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter of a game the Bengals had a 21-17 lead, but head coach Dick LeBeau turned to Rackers instead and he kicked the 34-yard field goal.
Dorsch let special teams coach Al Roberts have it. "I vented," is the way
Dorsch put its. But here is a bright guy who also says, "In this camp I've been learning about myself as well as kicking," and this was another lesson.
"I was very upset," Dorsch said. "I didn't have all the information. I was upset I wasn't getting the opportunity, but now I realize there will be more opportunities out there. I vented on Al, but he was taking orders from his boss and it was a chain of command. That's how it works. I have to be patient and as time rolls along, I'll get more chances."
One of the reasons that Dorsch has settled down is because he's probably figured out there is a NFL job somewhere out there no matter what happens as the only all Big Ten punter and kicker in history.
"If (Rackers) isn't the kicker, he'll be somewhere else, and I think the same thing about myself as a punter or a kicker," Dorsch said.
Another reason for the good week is that Dorsch is back punting. Last week, he wasn't happy when the Bengals pulled him from punting drills so he could focus on field goals. Now they're easing him back in.
"I feel more like myself;" Dorsch said. "Coach LeBeau made a comment when we got here that he felt like half a man over the offseason and that when we got here, we completed him. That's how I feel about punting. I'm still focusing on my kicking, but I feel a little more involved."
Dorsch gets first crack at a field goal against the Colts and it's fitting. He's got so many friends coming down from West Lafayette that he jokes he won't get a training camp check this week because of the number of tickets he bought.
"I'll be real excited," he said, "It's like my second home."
But he never kicked in the Indy dome while becoming the Boilermakers' first consensus All-American since Rod Woodson 15 years ago. He had two shots in the Metrodome in Minnesota and kicked once in the Alamo Dome. His big number, though, is he believes he was 23-for-24 kicking field goals on AstroTurf in college.
DILLON OUT: No Indy Turf for Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, who had a tooth pulled earlier this week and still has a sore foot from getting it stepped on a few weeks ago. It has now become a rite of passage. Dillon won't get his first carry of the season until he's in front of the home folks at Paul Brown Stadium in the third preseason game, which is Aug. 24 against the Saints.
WHO's NEXT?: Backup strong safety JoJuan Armour extended his one-year deal through 2004 Wednesday, but the Bengals aren't done. They are also talking to fullbacks Lorenzo Neal and Nick Williams and backup linebacker Canute Curtis about extending one-year deals. Armour, who started 11 of the final 12 games last year, is looking to regain his spot after the drafting of free safety Lamont Thompson shuffled the secondary.
"I want to be here. I'm from Ohio. I grew up on the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns," said Armour, 26, a Toledo native and Miami of Ohio product. "The coaches feel they have the best team on the field now and I support the coaches, but I'm not satisfied with being a backup."
INJURY UPDATE: From the desk of trainer Paul Sparling:
Backup RB Brandon Bennett is out with an irritated big toe. After consulting with a foot specialist, it's been determined it's not a long-range problem and he's probable for next week. . . .
WR Danny Farmer (hamstring) is doubtful, but could be used in an emergency situation for a receiving corps that is also without T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ankle) and Michael Westbrook (wrist) and has a hobbled Ron Dugans (Achilles). . . Westbrook is making an excellent recovery. He's caught balls the last two days and is on target to play a series in the Aug. 29 pre-season finale with a cast that is smaller than the one he's wearing now. . .
CB Artrell Hawkins (knee) is improving and is scheduled to go Aug. 24, but Sparling said he could have played this week if the game was on grass. . . .DE Eric Ogbogu (calf) is doubtful. . .So is CB Robert Bean with an inflamed sesamoid bone.