3-31-03, 10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals have told Travis Dorsch he is now just a punter and that he no longer has to worry about place kicking after a rookie season he coped with doing both.
Dorsch, who is spending his spring as the color man for the Purdue baseball team's radio broadcasts, analyzed the decision like this Monday:
"They see it as a move for the future. I think they see me as a guy who has a lot of potential and that the competition with Nick (Harris) is going to produce the best punter. They're going to have a good, young punter for the future and the guy who doesn't make it is going to have a good career somewhere else."
Head coach Marvin Lewis said Monday Dorsch is going to be looked at purely as a punter, and that he could also get a look as a kick-off man. The Bengals made the call after a series of discussions with Lewis, Dorsch and Darrin Simmons, the former Kansas punter now the Bengals' new special teams coach.
"I'm a firm believer in doing one or the other. You can't do both," Simmons said. "You can't perform at this level and with the
consistency that's needed doing two different things. Over here is Nick Harris doing one thing and Neil Rackers is over there doing something completely different and Travis is trying to do both. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul."
The move is also a tip of the hat to Rackers and last year's 15-for-18 effort on field goals. Lewis indicated they probably won't add another kicker to compete with Rackers at training camp while Harris and Dorsch duel.
After leading the nation in punting for the Boilermakers in 2001, only the Bengals and Jaguars looked at him as a kicker and not a punter. When Cincinnati took Dorsch in the fourth round of last year's draft, it figured the kicking job was his to lose. But he failed to knock out the champion as Rackers responded with a strong training camp.
When the Bengals also didn't want to lose Dorsch, they went with the unconventional roster of three kickers and made Dorsch a game-time deactivation. Dorsch gathered dust until he got the call to punt for Harris Dec. 8 and had the toughest of debuts when the Panthers returned two of his low liners for touchdowns as, of all people, Simmons watched while serving as Carolina's special teams coach.
"My whole point is that he was competing at a disadvantage," Simmons said. "To me, it's impossible to do both at this level. We came to a mutual decision that was comfortable for everyone and once that decision is made, we're going to stick with it."
Dorsch has been saying since training camp he think his future in the league is as a punter. He's pleased with the move because it frees up practices to work on the finer points of a position he thinks can take him to big places.
"I could be a kicker sooner, but I think I've got more potential as a punter," Dorsch said. "They first saw me as a kicker and then, I think, they saw how well Neil Rackers was doing about halfway through the season and then started to look at me as a punter. Now I know what they want me to do and what position they want out of me, so it should be a little easier this year."
Harris didn't have an easy time of it after a solid rookie season. He didn't get much help from his coverage teams (his net of 31.4 yards was next to last in the AFC), but he also slipped to 14th in AFC punting with an average of 40.1 yards per punt. He is looking forward to getting some help from Simmons after his stints with Panthers Pro Bowler Todd Sauerbrun, last year's NFL punt champion at 45.5 yards per kick.
"I thought I did pretty well until December," Harris said. "I let the conditions figure into it a little bit and I'd like to learn how to use the wind as an advantage instead of having it as a disadvantage."
Simmons has sat down with all the kickers to map out their schedules in an effort to make sure they pace themselves during the season. One of his goals is to make sure they don't hit a wall once November and December roll around.
Who will be punting for the Bengals then is anyone's guess. Dorsch isn't looking beyond the night of May 18. That's the day he graduates from Purdue with a degree in sports psychology. After the ceremony, he plans to have dinner with his parents before getting on the road to drive back to Cincinnati for workouts the next morning.
He'll also make the drive from West Lafayette for the weekend minicamps of April 11-14 and May 2-5. In between, he'll be calling the Boliermakers' home games, which can be heard on purduesports.com on the baseball link.
Dorsch, who pitched and played first base for Purdue, would like to get into broadcasting after his playing career.
"I'd like to do any kind of work I can get," Dorsch said. "I'd like to get something in Cincinnati, like at WLW, or somewhere where I can get experience in the place where I'm living."
He wants Rackers to know he's working this weekend. It seems Purdue has a series against Rackers' Illini.
"Tell Rack we've got them up here," Dorsch said.
It should be a spring and summer of competition.
SLANTS AND SCREENS:** The Bengals aren't saying if they are in the market for a center, but the fact is Rich Braham is unsigned. Vern Sharbaugh, his agent, said Monday that they haven't talked to the Bengals, but that doesn't mean the sides aren't an option for each other. The Bengals had some interest in the Rams' Andy McCollum, but he seemed
to be nearing a deal with the Patriots on Monday. The Bengals have the hammer on other teams for Braham with a right to match. . .
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis went to his first baseball Opening Day in Cincinnati Monday wearing the right hat, a the cap with the "C." But there's no denying his Western Pennsylvania roots. He grew up watching Monday's foes and the Pirates' Roberto Clemente was his favorite athlete as a kid. Plus, he spent the last seven years living in the shadow of Camden Yards in Baltimore.
"When I drove in this morning, I looked across and wondered what all the red was about," Lewis said. "Then I remembered. I'm going to have to get used to it. I'm coming from where there was a lot of orange." . . .
It looks like the Bengals are going to host some of the candidates for the top pick after Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich's April 7 workout. The Leftwich camp has indicated that he's going to visit Cincinnati a day or two after his workout and the agent for Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman indicated his client figures to be in later that week. Don't look for the Bengals to start negotiations with any of them until after the Leftwich workout. . .