BY GEOFF HOBSON - GEORGETOWN, KY.
A look at the race for the one punting spot and the one kicking spot on the roster heading into Friday's preseason opener with the players' years of experience:
PUNTERS: Brad Costello (1), Dan Pope (2), Jeff Walker (Rookie).
KICKERS:Doug Pelfrey (8), Neil Rackers (Rookie).
Pelfrey has to be feeling the heat after Saturday. Pelfrey, the kicker since he ousted Bengals all-time scorer Jim Breech as a rookie in 1993 training camp, is trying to prevent history from repeating, pushed a 31-yard field goal to the right during the scrimmage. Moments before, with the wind at his back, Rackers won a kickoff competition by consistently going deep into the end zone after struggling early in camp. The club still has to see how Rackers and Pelfrey kick field goals in games.
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"Doug has been doing better on his kickoffs," says special teams coach Al Roberts. "He's getting them to the goal line, which is four or five yards better than last year."
But Pelfrey will be the first to tell you that he won't be here Sept. 10 if he keeps missing short field goals and Rackers keeps kicking off into the end zone.
"He had a good hold and a good snap and Doug said he just missed it and I believe him," Roberts said. "I'm not going to blame him on the blocked extra point, because (rookie cornerback Robert Bean) just went right around the wing man."
Roberts has yet to find a consistent punter and says, "We're looking for a guy who can go out in a practice or a scrimmage and be brutally consistent. When we find him, he's the guy."
Right now, it's between the incumbent Costello and Pope, coming off a rookie year in Kansas City in which he averaged 41.8 yards per punt and put 20 inside the 20-yard line. Those are middle-of-the road in the AFC for both stats. Walker has competed with length and hang time, but hasn't nosed ahead.
Costello has been the longest, but his deliberate form has them worried. Pope has been the most consistent.
"We're looking for (Costello) to speed up his delivery time and he's been doing that," says coach Bruce Coslet. "He needs to be more consistent, but he's a strong leg. When he hits it, goes. Pope is one of these guys who probably isn't as strong as Costello, but he gets it off a hair faster and it always goes 41 yards up in the air. If he was the punter, you probably wouldn't see many returns against you. But if you were backed up in your end zone, you probably wouldn't see a real long punt."
Pope's options are limited because he can't kick off, so the only way he could probably make it is if Rackers is the kicker. Until Rackers went off Saturday, Costello had been the clear leader for kickoffs.
"The best thing for the team would be to have two guys who can kick off," Roberts said. "But it's up in the air. Punting. Kickoffs. Kicker. We'll have to see."