9-1-02, 11: 40 a.m.
Updated: 9-1-02, 2:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals kept both kickers Neil Rackers and Travis Dorsch on NFL Cutdown Day, but Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau indicated Sunday that Rackers would be his kicker in next Sunday's regular-season opener against the Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium.
In order to keep two kickers for the first time in club history, the Bengals cut two veteran cornerbacks with 31 starts for Cincinnati in local-guy-made-good Rodney Heath and 2000 draft pick Robert Bean.
Also released Sunday, but eligible for the five-man practice squad to be formed Monday were first-year tight end Chris Edmonds and six free-agent rookies in cornerbacks LaVar Glover, Tierre Sams and Reggie Myles, linebacker Dwayne Levels, wide receiver Darcey Levy, and defensive tackle Ron Smith. Glover and Smith were picked up on waivers last week and are leading practice squad candidates.
The club also placed starting left outside linebacker Steve Foley (shoulder) and rookie free-agent safety Stephon Kelly (quad) on season-ending injured reserve.
In another move, LeBeau said swingman Mark Roman has a good chance at starting in front of rookie Lamont Thompson at free safety against San Diego.
Bengals President Mike Brown said Sunday there is a possibility there could be a trade for one of the kickers, a possibility Dorsch wouldn't mind. P>"I'm very disappointed, but they have the right to do this," Dorsch said after
Sunday's practice. "They drafted me in the fourth round and I'm their player. They must have seen something they like. I just want to play whether it's here or somewhere else. I'm just going to come to work every day and try to et better."
It was Brown's first non-Draft Day trade in nearly five years on Saturday that made the two-kicker option viable. It was a longshot until they were able to relieve their glut at running back by shipping Curtis Keaton to New Orleans for what is believed to be a fourth-round draft pick next year.
And it doesn't mean the Bengals still can't trade Rackers or Dorsch for a draft choice, which could be an option if other teams don't like the kickers available after 4 p.m. Sunday.
"We like both of them and we thought they were among the top 53 players," said Brown at Sunday's practice. "They finished in pretty much a dead-heat and they both have a lot of upside. What will happen beyond now remains a question. A trade is always a possibility."
Brown found it hard to let Rackers go despite his career field-goal percentage of 59 during his first two seasons in the NFL. Both he and Dorsch made all of their seven field-goal attempts during the preseason, and Rackers edged him out in distance and kickoffs, and LeBeau said Rackers had the edge across the board.
Apparently the Bengals felt if they kept just one kicker and had to make a change during the season, the pool of available kickers isn't inviting enough.
"It's the first time we've kept two, but other teams do it," Brown said. "It's not unprecedented."
The last time the Bengals made a non-Draft Day trade was in February of 1998 when they swapped defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson for the Redskins' first- and third-rounders in that April's draft. They turned out to be starting middle linebacker Brian Simmons with the 17th pick and right guard Mike Goff with the 78th pick.
In this past draft, the Bengals traded their third-and fifth-round picks to Carolina so they could select tight end Matt Schobel in the third round.
The Bengals are going with one less cornerback than most teams in opting to keep five, which includes Roman. Bo Jennings, a second-year player with nine NFL games and no starts, won the battle among Heath and Bean with an excellent NFL Europe season followed by a solid training camp.
Jennings is the fourth corner behind starters Artrell Hawkins and Jeff Burris and nickel back Kevin Kaesviharn, but made the team because of his speed and production on special teams when ranked against Heath and Bean.
Management, coaches, and players deeply felt the Heath cut. Heath, a Western Hills High School grad who went on to play at the University of Minnesota and arena ball, got his chance in 1999, a month shy of his 25th birthday.
After walking in off the street with his video and securing a free-agent deal, Heath went on to start 23 games and last year signed a three-year extension for about a $700,000 average.
He started the first five games last year, but suffered a serious setback with a severe hamstring tear that put him into a seven-month rehab after season-ending surgery. Apparently, they weren't convinced Heath had returned with his same speed running deep down the field.
The operative question around PBS Sunday is if the Bengals are taking too big of a risk by keeping just five corners.
"Given what happened last year," Hawkins said, "I don't think there wasn't a corner (that started the season with them) who didn't miss a game or two. Corners aren't the biggest and strongest guys out there, and you figure someone is going to get a shoulder or an ankle, something is going to happen. It's not a risk now, but 10, 11 games into the season it might be a factor if you get two guys banged up at one time."