10-11-01, 10:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Jim Breech wasn't always the Bengals' all-time leading scorer. He remembers that rookie year of 1980. How he missed three of his seven field-goal tries from 47, 45 and 33 yards and wondered if there would be a 1981.
"It's not fun," Breech said. "But I got it straightened out."
That's pretty much the lesson beleaguered Bengals kicker Neil Rackers could take Thursday after Breech worked with him and punter Nick Harris during practice. During training camp, Rackers let Breech know he wouldn't mind some weekly consultation.
"He pounds the ball," Dr. Breech said. "He's got a big leg, no question. And he's been kicking off great and that's a big factor. "
Breech knows a good chunk of Bengaldom wants Rackers' head. But he thinks
there is too much talent in that big foot to be punted away after 20 NFL games.
"He's making the majority of his kicks in practice," Breech said. "Now the big thing is just to take it out to the game and do the same thing. It's all repetition."
Rackers has missed his last four field-goal tries (from 43, 39, 45, 51) after making all three (from 36, 47, 33) on Opening Day. Rackers is in the midst of finding a comfort level with Harris, his second holder in two years whom arrived a week before the regular season.
"They want me to slow down a little more, to get a chance to look at the ball a little longer," Rackers said. "We have to get familiar with each other. It's one of those things if Nick had been with me in camp, he would know my tendencies and I would know his."
Harris says Rackers' tendency is to focus his eyes on the spot, "and if everything is right, he should make it."
Breech, whose claim to fame is making all nine of his overtime kicks, knew when he finally got over the hump.
"I did it over and over and when I got into a game, I was able to remove myself from the things I couldn't control," Breech said. "I couldn't change the snap, the hold, the blocking on the line, the guy in the stands, what they were going to write. All I could do was worry about the kick because that's all I could control."
SMITH WONDERS: Forget two years and one day ago, when Bengals quarterback Akili Smith beat arch-rival Tim Couch and the Browns in his first NFL start with a two-yard touchdown pass on the Bengals' last play of the game.
How about last year after the first four games when Smith was still the starter? The Bengals were 29th in pass offense, 30th in rush offense, last overall, and Smith was next to last in AFC passing with a 41.3 rating (one touchdown pass, four interceptions, 40 percent completion percentage).
Today, with Smith as the third quarterback, the Bengals are 28th in passing, 20th in rushing, 29th overall and Jon Kitna is 10th in AFC passing with a 74.5 rating (five touchdowns, four interceptions, 60.2 completion percentage).
Which is a reason why the Bengals have two wins now and none last year at this time. But they no doubt thought the offense would have better numbers rather than stats too close to those of last year.
As for Smith, he's finding out the difference between a third quarterback and a No. 3 pick.
"Everyone is saying, 'Akili needs to get better,'" Smith said. "But when you're third string, you don't get any reps. (Backup Scott) Mitchell is getting more snaps on the scout team. Everybody wants me to get better, but how can I get better not getting any work? But this is the way the
organization wants it, so this is what I have to do with it."
The Browns very nearly cast their lot with Smith when they made the first draft pick of the franchise in 1999. But they went with Couch No. 1 to play quarterback and Smith never hid his bitterness, claiming the Browns only expressed interest in him to facilitate negotiations with Couch.
"It's going to be extremely hard this weekend," Smith said. "To have to sit there and watch it, but there's nothing I can do about it. They've got Kitna in there and I hope he does a good job."