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Huber Returns In Bid To Stretch His Bengals Records

Kevin Huber (10) and Evan McPherson were quite a team in '21.
Kevin Huber (10) and Evan McPherson were quite a team in '21.

Kevin Huber, the Bengals all-time punter, is convinced he has plenty of that time left.

"Just another year," said Huber, who has more of them than any Bengals kicker ever. "If I kick how I know I can kick right now, I'll be just fine."

In his 13 seasons, Huber has done everything a Bengals punter can do. From holding the AFC winning kick to keeping Tom Brady at bay in the final two minutes at Paul Brown Stadium with a 57-yarder to drilling four punts inside the Steelers 20 in a win in Pittsburgh that put them in the playoffs.

But if there is going to be a 14th season and a franchise-record 208th game to move past the Ring of Honor's Ken Riley, Huber is going to have to do something he's never done as a Bengal.

Win the job in a training camp competition.

"That's a motivation on top of getting another year," said Huber on Tuesday, a day after he re-upped. "To break the record and not let Clark (Harris) have the record."

Harris, of course, is Huber's partner in rhyme, his long snapper since the sixth game of his NFL career. Harris, with 201 games, also finds himself in a camp competition since reports have the Bengals signing undrafted rookie Cal Adomitisfrom Pittsburgh, the only long snapper invited to the NFL scouting combine.  Huber is matched against another undrafted free agent, one from last season in Ohio State's Drue Chrisman.

"We have," Huber said, "a full room this year."

Harris, who turns 38 the week before Huber turns 37 in July, is believed never to have made an unplayable snap in those 201 games. All but a handful of those have been handled by Huber. The only more reliable pair on a Bengals Sunday in these last 13 seasons has been in the radio booth with play-by-play man Dan Hoard's steady call and analyst Dave Lapham's insightful enthusiasm.

Darrin Simmons, the only special teams coordinator the two have had here, gets it.

"Both of those guys are certainly guys I have a great amount of respect for," Simmons said. "But with everything, you're trying to put the best 53 guys, the best 46 guys or 47 guys or whatever it is now, out there on the field."

Huber gets it, too.

"At some point I'm not going to be the punter. They have to do their due diligence and make sure they have the right people in place to put the best team out there," Huber said.

"I think (competition) makes everyone better. Clark and I have been going through this long enough. We both understand that at some point we won't be the guys. It's just the nature of this industry where you have to prove yourself year in and year out. The best man wins."

The numbers down the stretch said Huber wasn't the best man he was in 2020 when he popped a career year. Still, Simmons has an enormous backlog of trust in Huber, built from such tight moments as The Battle of 18-12 in Pittsburgh when he was a rookie that year Simmons taught him to kick end over end, and his seamless work holding the seams away from rookie kicker Evan McPherson during last year's Super Bowl run.

"We have to produce in critical spots. We have to be able to punt the ball and punt the ball and flip field position," Simmons said. "I don't think we did that as well as we had done it in the past down the stretch of the season and I think that's why we're even having this conversation right now. But yes, (trust) certainly figures into it. There are not too many situations that Kevin and I have not been through in all the special teams play. I have a great trust in his ability to understand to know what to do, now it's up to him to physically prove that he can still do that."

Huber knows he can. During the season he fought a cyst in his hip off and on, but he says that had nothing to do with the uneven work in the playoffs.

"I talked to Darrin after the season. It's the first time I was in a playoff run and I think sometimes I got caught up in punting not to lose the game, if you will, instead of just punting away. Punt to win," Huber said. "I just have to go out there and put a good hit on it and put the team in the best spot. I felt like there were a couple of punts I'd like to have back. I don't think I'll make that mistake again."

Simmons says the competition won't start until August and it's going to look like his other summer kicking derbies: "These guys have to split equal reps with different snappers." Huber says he's not looking to turn it into "a punt-off. I'm just going to put my head down and do what I have to do."

He doesn't think he's far off. Here's a guy that was the top punter in the nation at the University of Cincinnati and 15 years later he's got a shot at being only the fourth player in franchise history to play at least 14 seasons. He thinks there's plenty left where that came from.

"Just a little more consistency. I don't think leg strength was an issue at all. It was just some timely miss hits and easily correctable stuff that I'll take care of this year."

No pun intended, but Simmons knows Huber "has a leg up," on the competition with literally a tight hold on the job. If his invisible touch holding for Shayne Graham, Mike Nugent and Randy Bullock had been taken for granted down through the years, it was savored last season as he shepherded McPherson through five walk-off kicks, the final two in the playoffs with the last one getting them into the Super Bowl.

"He's done it for so much longer," Simmons said. "The trust I think that Clark and Kevin have gained over time certainly figures into that, too. It's something Drue's been working on hard and he knows that was a deficiency a little bit in his game. And for him to have to compete to be the starting punter, the kicker's got to have success when he's in there too. That's a big part of it.

"I used to think a punter's job, 60 percent of it was punting and probably 40 percent was holding … I think some of that has probably shifted. The punting and the holding part has probably shifted. Obviously having a weapon that we have in Evan and being able to back our field goal attempts up a bit, certainly opens the field up for those guys offensively, too. And so now I think it's probably like 55-45 or probably damn close to 50-50 punting and holding."

Huber's hands were gifted to him from his father Ed Huber, an end on one of Xavier University's last teams and a teammate on future Boston Celtics great Dave Cowens' Newport Catholic High School team that dominated Kentucky basketball.

"Just being fluid with it. Once you start trying to force it and get jerky, you're going to miss the spot a lot," Huber said. "You just have to trust your hands. It helps a lot to have a good snapper that can put the laces where they need to be, something that Clark really does well. If Clark has a miss, I know exactly where it's going to be. I kind of have a sense of reading Clark's snaps. I can kind of tell if it's going to be off or not. A lot of reps. A lot of practice. Luckily, I have some decent hands to begin with."

One of the highlights of the '21 Run was how the savvy curmudgeons Huber and Harris helped McPherson, a 22-year-old college senior, to arguably the greatest rookie season a kicker ever had.

"I'm sure it was comforting for Evan to come into a situation where Clark and I have been together for so long," Huber said. "It's the longest year of your career. You're kicking in the season and go right into the combine and then right into camp. For him to come in and have that peace of mind to focus on kicking, knowing the ball is going to be there and that's taken care of probably helped him a lot get through the transition of the first season."

Huber had been drafted in the fifth round, too. He remembers the Tuesday after that draft the Bengals cut Kyle Larson, the incumbent punter for the past five seasons. McPherson basically won the job when he was drafted in the fifth round last year. With four punters potentially to be drafted, Huber figured he'd wait to see what happened this year before re-upping with the Bengals.

There were punters available when they picked in the fourth and fifth rounds, but the call wasn't made. Huber did what he did in that 2009 draft and didn't watch. Back then, he found out he was drafted when they called him on the 17th tee at California Golf Course.

"Too long. It's easier just to pull it up on Twitter and then go about your day," Huber said. "I did watch it at the beginning to see where some of the UC guys went. It was really great to see all those guys get drafted."

Now, it's just a matter of numbers as he brings his usual good nature into the fray.

"Get another year," said Huber with a laugh, "so Clark can't get the record."