10-7-03, 5 p.m.
Updated: 10-7-03, 11:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals made the anticipated move Tuesday when they released punter Nick Harris and replaced him with a prominent figure from head coach Marvin Lewis' Super Bow championship while he was the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens.
Kyle Richardson, who set a NFL record with 39 punts inside the 20-yard-line to back up Lewis' defense in 1999, signed a two-year deal with the Bengals Tuesday and finds himself punting against his old Ravens' team in his Oct 19 Bengals' debut at Paul Brown Stadium.
"Is that right? I haven't looked that far ahead," said Richardson Tuesday night. "I know what Marvin Lewis has done and that he can do it again, and I'm excited about that."
Also Tuesday, Lewis rewarded Duane Clemons for his three sacks in Buffalo by putting him No. 1 on the depth chart ahead of Carl Powell at left end. Since the Bengals don't have a game this Sunday, they aren't giving out injury information, but a sign that running back Corey Dillon (groin) is going to be healthy enough for the Ravens surfaced when he was put back to No. 1 on the depth chart.
Richardson could have worked out with the Lions Tuesday, and was actually headed to the airport to fly to Detroit when he got the call from Cincinnati to come to PBS and work out. Knowing that the field-position minded Lewis is familiar with his style, Richardson is comfortable with the fit and opted to come to the Bengals' workout.
The 6-2, 210-pound Richardson followed his NFL record with 35 more punts inside the 20 during the Ravens' title run in 2000, including four in the Super Bowl victory over the Giants.
In his last season with the Ravens, Richardson helped Lewis post a 16-0 shutout over the Bengals on Dec. 23, 2001 when he set a team record with five punts inside the Cincinnati 20-yard-line.
"I think it was a matter of getting so many chances in Baltimore," said Richardson of the art of
putting it inside the 20. "When you do it over and over, you're so used to seeing it and doing it."
He's also re-joining Jay Hayes, the Bengals defensive line coach who was Richardson's special teams coach in Minnesota last season. After the Eagles cut him following the preseason's third game, Richardson said the Bengals worked him out for the first time the week of the opener. He has also worked out for Tampa Bay and Miami.
Harris, in his third season since the Bengals picked him up off waivers from Denver in the preseason, had struggled this year with a next-to-last-in-the NFL net punting average and overall punting average of 30 yards, and 38.7, respectively. Although he was punting into the wind to end the Bengals' only series of overtime this past Sunday, Harris' 29-yard punt that put the Bills on the Buffalo 45 may have been the final straw in the 22-16 loss.
Richardson, 30, who set numerous team records in Baltimore during four seasons, joined the Vikings in 2002 and had a net average of 35.3 and overall average of 39.9 in all 16 games, compared to Harris' 31.4 and 40.1. Richardson had just 21 punts inside the 20 for the Vikes, but he also had 41 fewer punts than he had in his record year and his inside-the-20 to touchback differential was a solid plus-15. That jacked his career differential to plus 107 on 151 inside-the-20 to 44 touchbacks.
"They made a change in coaches and when that happens, a lot of times you're going to have to move on," said Richardson of the special teams shuffle in Minnesota. "In Baltimore, there were about 21 one us who got broken up from that team (because of the salary cap). I'm sure they would have rather kept a guy like Shannon Sharpe than me."
Harris had five punts inside the 20 this season in the first five games and 37 during his 36 career games in Cincinnati.
Last season, Harris' net average of 31.4 was third-to-last in the NFL. His high punts didn't get much help from the coverage teams during his first two seasons here, but Lewis apparently wasn't going to wait any longer for the man who left the University of California in 2000 as college football's all-time leading punter to come up with better numbers.
Harris is the 13th Opening Day starter from 2002 no longer starting under Lewis in 2003 because of free agency, cuts, or demotions. He joins kicker Neil Rackers on the list as special teams coach Darrin Simmons has a different punter and kicker than the duo he worked with in training camp. Richardson said it's his understanding he'll replace Harris as the holder for kicker Shayne Graham. He did it in Baltimore for Matt Stover when Stover went to the Pro Bowl following the 2000 season.