Gears keep grinding

9-2-03, 8:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

While the Bengals enjoyed their last day off before Sunday's regular-season opener, the gears still continued to grind through the NFL Tuesday.

Former Bengals kicker Neil Rackers cleared waivers, opening up the possibility that he could re-sign with the team in the coming weeks pending developments that include the progress of his successor, former Panthers kicker Shayne Graham.

There was no indication that the Bengals had interest in Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Milloy, a sudden cut of the Patriots on Tuesday. But according to a NFL source outside the Bengals, the club has expressed interest in running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, recently cut by the Steelers.

Rackers, coming off the best regular season and preseason of his career, was waived Monday in a surprise move. He had no comment Tuesday when asked about published reports that say he has a torn meniscus in the knee of his plant leg stemming from a play in Friday night's pre-season finale off one of the bobbled field-goal snaps.

"That's a bridge we'll cross when we come to it," said Rackers, when asked about returning to the Bengals. "They made a move and you have to live

with it. I met a lot of nice people in Cincinnati. I enjoyed the guys in the media, the security guys, my teammates. It's been a good experience."

On Graham's first day of work at PBS Tuesday, Rackers wouldn't divulge his future plans or discuss his health. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewsis had no comment on his kicking situation as he heard about some of the players the club cut on Sunday getting picked up Tuesday. Linebackers Steve Foley and Armegis Spearman each signed one-year deals in Houston. Safety Lamont Thompson hooked up with the Titans in Tennessee.

Milloy would appear to be Lewis' kind of catch as a Pro Bowler who also has a Super Bowl ring. And, for good measure, he went to high school with Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna in Tacoma, Wash. But there appeared to be no pursuit Tuesday night with agent Carl Poston unavailable for comment.

The oft-injured Fuamatu-Ma'afala, 26, is negotiating with New Orleans and Jacksonville. If he can't work it out with one of those teams, the league source said the sides are working out a visit to Cincinnati next week.

Fuamatu-Ma'afala has always impressed the Bengals with his size (5-11, 245 pounds) and speed. He scored the wining touchdown for the Steelers in the wild comeback win over the Browns in last year's playoffs, and is also known as a beast on special teams. At the moment, he's working through a hamstring injury.

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