10-9-01, 6:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Neil Rackers is under the gun, but special teams coach Al Roberts suggests his critics literally hold off on the Bengals' embattled kicker.
Roberts says the trio of Rackers, holder Nick Harris, and long-snapper Brad St. Louis are still trying to get in sync since Harris' arrival as the punter at the Aug. 30 pre-season finale.
Roberts said the hold on Rackers' not-even-close 51-yard field-goal try last Sunday in Pittsburgh didn't help the fourth straight miss since Rackers nailed his first three of the season Opening Day.
"This is a three-man operation, so it's just not all Neil Rackers," Roberts said Tuesday. "(Harris) moved the ball two and a half inches toward him and when that happens, you're going to get it five yards to the outside. The kid is learning how to hold and we've been working with both of them every day."
Rackers is now 3-for-7 on field-goal tries after going 12-for-21 his rookie season, but Roberts continues to think his sixth-round draft pick has the leg and head to make it. At the moment, the Bengals have no kickers waiting in the wings.
But they should be expecting a video from Doug Pelfrey, the man Rackers replaced before last season.
"I'm sending two copies to all 32 teams," said Pelfrey, who hasn't hooked on since the Bengals released him 14 months ago. "I'm going to keep trying as long as I think I can kick in the league."
But it is a longshot that Pelfrey makes a return to his hometown team for which he won six games on the last play during his seven seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals didn't think Pelfrey could kick off, but they like what Rackers has done there this season. On Sunday, he kicked
one to the Steelers 1 in a swirling wind and in the two home games he has pumped seven into the end zone. But one got wiped away by penalty.
"We know he's got it in him. Just go back and look at the three he sent right through the uprights against New England," said Jim Lippincott, Bengals director of college/pro personnel. "For some reason, that's just the way it is with young kickers. It takes them time. But we feel like he's got the kind of potential to hang with."
Roberts understands Rackers is working on his second holder in as many years in the NFL and that he didn't start working with Harris until virtually the regular season.
"That's not an easy thing to make an adjustment on," Roberts said. "He's got to learn how to hold in wind, rain, snow and ice."
Pelfrey can tell Rackers about multiple holders. Mainly because of injuries, Pelfrey struggled finding consistency with five snappers and three holders in his last unhappy year in Cincinnati in 1999.
Now he feels like there is only one way to show the NFL he's not much different than the guy who finished the 1996 season as the NFL's al-time field goal accuracy leader.
He produced, directed and starred in his own video. He filmed kickoffs that went into the end zone with hang times of 4.2 and 4.3 seconds. He recorded a 59-yard field goal and 40-yard field goals that cleared the uprights. He's got a taped recommendation from Bengals all-time leading scorer Jim Breech.
And, maybe most important, he said on the tape he's looking only for minimum salary. After he had a pretty similar workout with second-year man Jose Cortez, now the NFC's leading scorer with the 49ers, Pelfrey is convinced money dictates much of the kicking personnel calls.
Pelfrey isn't saying he's better than everyone in the league. But he does say he can kick off as well as 70 percent of the guys now in the NFL and that he can kick 52, 53-yarders, field goals he says he rarely sees anymore.
"It's almost like it's a different league," Pelfrey said. "Either they don't try them or they don't make them."
Pelfrey, 31, had no problem shooting the video. He's got in-house production for his business, "Play Like The Pros," a company that sets up charities, camps and instructional videos for college coaches and pro athletes.
"I know I can kick," said Pelfrey, who continues to kick three times a week at the University of Cincinnati. "I'll keep trying until I can't."