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Bengals Draft Day Gem Evan McPherson Seeking "Little Ways To Be Great"

K Evan McPherson, the Bengals fifth round pick in the 2021 draft, prepares to kick a field goal during the 2022 Ravens-Bengals Week 18 game at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
K Evan McPherson, the Bengals fifth round pick in the 2021 draft, prepares to kick a field goal during the 2022 Ravens-Bengals Week 18 game at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Evan McPherson, the Bengals' record-breaking kicker whose offseason goal is to go from good to great, is just one of three kickers and punters to be chosen by his team in the 21 drafts Darrin Simmons has been the special teams coordinator.

His record is 3-for-3. All in the fifth round. McPherson's selection with the 149th pick in 2021 has been validated 14 times over, his total field goals from at least 50 yards, the team record. Heading into his third season when voluntary workouts begin at Paycor Stadium Monday, McPherson seeks an ever longer goal.

"Just finding little ways to be great," McPherson said this week. "I feel like I'm good, but I don't think I'm great. Just finding ways to improve that consistency."

McPherson's stone-face reaction to Simmons' notorious gentle needling during his pro day workout at Florida before the draft foreshadowed his icy 19-for-19 work in the postseason hotbox that includes two walk-offs. But he wants more of a feel.

"What I'm working more on this year is maybe in high-stress situations control my heartbeat, control my breathing and from there all my training takes over," said McPherson, who is always taking his pulse when he's working. "Sometimes you start thinking about too much. You forget about the simple things. Try to simplify things. Find smaller issues and turn them into strengths."

McPherson thinks one way is maybe the simplest of all.

"Just having more fun with it. Have more fun with the game," McPherson said. "Our season is so long, you can find yourself doing the same thing week after week. Sometimes it gets overwhelming. Have fun with people in the building."

It's not like McPherson tripped over the waiver wire last year after his fabulous rookie postseason. He had the same number of misses last year in the regular season he had the year before (five) and while he had a slight dip in percentage (84.8 to 82.8), he missed four extra points, two more than he did as a rookie He also missed one in the playoffs.

Simmons notes one of those PAT misses came in the miserable conditions of New England and while he acknowledges McPherson hit all five tries from at least 50, he agrees with McPherson.

"Consistency," Simmons says. "Hit extra points."

"Finding his true swing and never coming off it. I don't think it's mechanical. He's still a young guy. He's learning."

His upcoming season may also be impacted by the next draft in two weeks.

Despite Simmons' perfect track draft record with the always volatile market of specialists and his Indy Decree last month that the Bengals would have a second straight training camp punting competition even though Drue Chrisman is the only punter on the roster, he says it's not a given they'll draft one.

But he does say it is going to help MacPherson "to get the snapper and holder settled. That was a big change for him last year … We've had it easy around here in having Kevin (Huber) and Clark (Harris) for so long. It wasn't easy for Evan."

Simmons' drafting skein began when he selected his only punter, the University of Cincinnati's Huber. Huber held for the previous 14 seasons while becoming the franchise's all-time leader punter before being supplanted by Chrisman in mid-year last season.

The touch continued when the Bengals took kicker Jake Elliott in 2017. He didn't make it out of a training camp derby, but he's been with the Eagles ever since. Like McPherson, he's 100 percent on post-season field-goal tries, including two conference championship games for each.

Only a dozen kickers have been drafted since Elliott went off the board in that haul six years ago that also included his foe in the last Super Bowl, Harrison Butker, as well as Zane Gonzalez. None of those three are with their original teams. Of the dozen, only McPherson, Buffalo's Tyler Bass and Miami's Jason Sanders are.

So if Simmons is looking, odds are he'll find him. But all he'll give you is this class of punters isn't as deep as the one last season that yielded two in the fourth round.

McPherson, who says he has full confidence in the operation he had for the last half of the year in Chrisman and snapper Cal Adomitis, has an idea of what the prospective punters are going through if Simmons is working them out. They'd probably rather go to the dentist.

"He'll try to get under your skin," McPherson said. "He's throwing them all kinds of bad snaps. All over the place. He wants to see your reaction."

He remembers when Simmons worked with him when he came down for his pro day ("He'll test you") and how he fooled with him. Simmons held for him twice. One was perfect.

"The next one, he caught it, bobbled it and the laces were straight back and I had to kick it. Made both of them," McPherson said.

McPherson also remembers Simmons testing him on his football knowledge as well as asking him about how he responded to misses.

"He'd want me to walk him through situations," McPherson said. "Clock running down, game tied. Say we don't have any timeouts. Third-and-six and we don't get the first down and 20 seconds on the clock. What do you do?

"Obviously, you're doing the hurry-up field goal. He wanted to see your knowledge of the game, but also if I missed a field goal, if I could self-diagnose my miss and tell him why I missed. He was looking to see if I was a self-corrector."

Simmons saw tape of his misses, so he could quiz McPherson about those, but he didn't have time to ask him about his only pro day miss. Right after he missed from 60 yards, McPherson put the next 60-yarder down the middle.

"Any tool you can find," Simmons says, "you use to evaluate."