9-1-03, 4:20 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals offered a last-minute roster surprise when they released kicker Neil Rackers Monday and claimed Shayne Graham off waivers to take his place for this Sunday's regular-season opener against Denver.
They also waived defensive lineman Greg Scott to make room for a waiver claim of rookie linebacker Keyon Whiteside, a fifth-round draft pick of the Colts out of Tennessee.
After investing four training camps in Rackers, a sixth-round draft pick in 2000, he appeared to be on the verge of overcoming his early problems and becoming one of the NFL's solid kickers. After
missing 18 of his first 39 field-goal attempts, he made 23 of his last 28 dating back to Dec. 2, 2001, and opened up the this preseason hitting all three attempts against the Lions on Aug. 16. He missed his last two tries, a 49-yarder and 36-yarder, but the Bengals were also having problems with the holds during a preseason they bobbled five snaps on field goals and extra points.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, overseeing an afternoon practice, couldn't be reached for comment.
For the first time in his career, Rackers also displayed his powerful leg consistently on kickoffs. He didn't have a touchback in the pre-season finale in Indianapolis on four kickoffs, but he came into the game tied for second in the NFL with four, two behind Miami's Olindo Mare.
Graham, 25, out of Virginia Tech, kicked for Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons in Carolina last season and hit 13 of 18 field-goal tries. He had two misses from under 30 yards, but he was also two of two from 50, and made 6 of 8 between 40 and 49 yards.
He hit 6 of 8 tries for the Bills n 2001 after failing to hook on with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2000 and in the 2001 preseason with Seattle.
Scott had been picked up on waivers by the Bengals late last week and they now have eight defensive linemen on the roster. With the arrival of Whiteside, they now have seven linebackers.
The 6-foot, 229-pound Whiteside looks to be in the mold of a Marvin Lewis linebacker as a fast, versatile guy who makes plays. A former running back and punt returner in high school, Whiteside had six tackles against the Bengals Friday night two weeks after he had a team-high seven against Seattle. He had 18 tackles for the preseason after leading the Volunteers with 119 at two different spots during his senior year. He made eight starts at middle linebacker and five at right outside linebacker.
The Bengals also formed a four-man practice squad Monday, leaving a slot open. University of Cincinnati rookie running back Ray Jackson made it, as did sixth-round pick Langston Moore, a defensive tackle from South Carolina, and wide receiver Kevin Walter, a seventh-round draft pick of the Giants picked up on waivers last week. Second-year center Thatcher Szalay is also on the squad.