6-18-01, 5:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals, known as a team that offers second chances, gave one to punter Will Brice Monday when they claimed him on waivers from Carolina.
All indications are incumbent Daniel Pope has solid footing as the No. 1 punter heading into training camp. But the move also shows the Bengals seek the distance Brice displayed sporadically for them in 1999 as a punter and kick-off specialist.
Pope had a solid season last year when he averaged 40.2 yards on a team-record 94 punts, but he had to leave the kick-off chores to kicker Neil Rackers.
Brice, hampered by a deliberate style and a parade of different long snappers, had perhaps the most checkered punting career in Bengals history two years ago. He was forced into the job a week before the regular season. Brad Costello's
injury foreshadowed a season the team had four punts deflected.
Brice, 26, was cut after 11 games and hasn't kicked in the NFL since his best outing ever turned out to be his last for the Bengals. After punting five times for an average of 49.8 yards and a net of 44.1 in a 34-31 loss to Baltimore, Brice was let go to make room for the recovered Costello.
"From time to time here, Will showed a big-time leg," said scout Duke Tobin. "He was working with inconsistencies from our long snappers, but now we'll get a pretty good idea of where he is because he'll be working with a good snapper in Brad St. Louis.
"There's no question he has to improve his speed at getting the ball off," Tobin said. "But we saw something in him that makes him an interesting guy who can give us training camp competition."
The '99 opener, a 36-35 loss in Tennessee, epitomized Brice's crazy season. He got off the second-longest punt in Bengals' history, a 72-yarder, but had another one blocked in the end zone for a safety. He did put 12 of his 60 punts inside the foes' 20-yard line and only four in the end zone for a 41.3 average, but his net was just 32.1.
The Eagles signed Brice after the '99 season and cut him in the 2000 training camp. The Panthers signed him back in January, but cut Brice two weeks ago after they signed Todd Sauerbrun.
"This doesn't mean we're down on Daniel Pope at all," Tobin said. "We like his athleticism and consistency, but we're also trying to find as much competition for him as we can."
Also on the roster is rookie punter Kent McCullough, a free agent out of Miami of Ohio.