10-22-01, 5:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals put kicker Neil Rackers on alert by inviting three young free-agents for workouts Tuesday.
The good news for Rackers, who has missed half his dozen field-goal attempts, is the Bengals are looking to sign one of them to the practice squad and keep him in the wings while Rackers tries to find himself.
"He hasn't cost us a game yet with a miss kick," said Bengals President Mike Brown Monday. "But you can't go along kicking a third, or a half of your field goals, and not have it rear up and bite you. It serves notice he has to get better."
Of the three candidates, only Jaret Holmes, a member of the NFC champion Giants last season, has kicked in the league during the regular season. Rookie Vitaly Pisetsky, out of Wisconsin, got cut by the Bears in training camp. Louisville's Jon Hilbert came into the league in 2000, but failed to make it with his third team when the Saints cut him at the end of this past training camp.
One of Pisetsky's battles with incumbent Paul Edinger in Chicago came against the Bengals in the pre-season
opener. Edinger kicked the winning field goal in overtime, while Pisetsky made a 45-yarder and yanked a 47-yarder to the left. He also put one of his two kickoffs two yards deep in the end zone.
Kicking off is a major factor for the Bengals, who seek one in the same in a field-goal/kickoff specialist.
"We went through a stretch here a few years ago where we let the other team get the ball on the 35 all the time," Brown said. "Short kickoffs and missed field goals can both make you lose games."
Holmes, 25, the veteran of the group who came into the league as a free agent with the Eagles out of Auburn three years ago, made his two field-goal tries for the 1999 Bears with a long of 39. He was also 2-for-2 for the Giants last season in four games, with a long of 34, before they cut him at the end of this past training camp.
In the 2000 NFL Europe season, Holmes hit 9 of 12 field goals for Berlin.
"Our kicker is a young guy who is struggling," Brown said. "He has the ability to do the job. We watch him practice and he's impressive. He kicks off well and that's a real plus. But he hasn't done what he needs to do."
The Bengals aren't in the market yet for a veteran like Doug Pelfrey or Richie Cunningham because they don't think they can kick off well enough. But Brown said he's not closing off the veteran route as the season evolves.
"What we want to happen is for Rackers to settle down," Brown said. "He has the ability. If he ends up not kicking here, he'll end up kicking for some other team."