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Kickers bounce in trade winds

9-1-02, 11:55 p.m.


For the first time in their history, the Bengals have two place kickers on their roster the week of a game, which means:

The club continues to shop Neil Rackers and Travis Dorsch for a possible trade that would bring them a middle-round draft pick or better. Minnesota, Seattle, Washington and the Giants are said to be seeking a kicker of any sort.

"We're not looking to give anybody away," said Bengals director of football operations Jim Lippincott. "But we are listening to what teams have to say."

Dorsch, the club's fourth-round draft pick, is disappointed he didn't win the job and is looking to get a job anywhere he can play.

"Neil and I talked about that," Dorsch said of a training-camp competition that has spilled into the regular season. "It seems a little funny, but we're making each other better. I think everyone can see that. If it means making every kick every day, then so be it. I'm excited to be alive another day and taking one day at a time."

Rackers, who continues not to talk to the media, looks to be the kicker for opener this coming Sunday against the Chargers while Dorsch goes on the inactive list. Which is a marvelous comeback from a NFL kicker's abyss.

Ridiculed by fans, taunted in the community, given up for dead on Draft Day by his candid position coach, Rackers responded with the kind of training camp the Bengals had in mind when they took him in the sixth round in 2000. Like Dorsch, he was perfect on field goals, but outkicked him on kickoffs when his hang time caught up with his distance in the pre-season finale Thursday night.

But maybe his most important feat in the face of his 59-percent field-goal success in his two seasons is keeping his

teammates from doing him bodily harm while keeping them in his corner.

"I think he has the full support of the team," said offensive captain Willie Anderson. "It's been real hard for him. I just felt bad for him last year, how he couldn't turn it around. Fans don't see the accuracy and the strength he has in his leg that we see every day in practice. If he kicked that way in a game, he'd be a Pro Bowl player.''

And last, but not least,

The national media wasted no time jumping on the Bengals, even though the 49ers kept two kickers Sunday, the

Ravens went to the playoffs last year with two kickers dressing for 10 games, and the Giants won a Super Bowl with Brad Daluiso kicking off and Matt Bahr kicking field goals.

"Cutdown weekend was notable for the curious conduct of the Cincinnati Bengals, who demonstrated once again why they are the losingest NFL team of the past decade," wrote Dave Goldberg of the Associated Press.

"It left Cincinnati with just four cornerbacks on the roster," Goldberg concluded. "That's why they call them the Bungles."

Actually, they have five corners if you count swingman Mark Roman, but Goldberg does make a solid point in noting that when most teams keep two kickers, both are active on Sunday. But Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau indicated this past Sunday that it will be one or the other.

Dorsch admitted, "He was very disappointed," and said he wouldn't feel very good about getting his chance if Rackers or the special teams struggle. But he also knows he's not in a position to demand a trade, although if it gives him a chance to kick or punt every Sunday he would clearly embrace it.

"I can't worry about coaches, fans, ownership, or even other kickers," Dorsch said. "I just have to go out and do what I do."

LeBeau is leaning toward Rackers for the opener, but he doesn't think he should be looking over his shoulder at Dorsch.

"This is a pressure-packed profession. You have someone sitting over your shoulder, I have someone sitting over mine, and you better be able to perform when the gun is down," LeBeau said. "I don't take that into the equation. I think Neil's done a great job. He's here, and that should tell him right there that we think he's done a great job. He's going to be our kicker this week, and that should tell him that we have confidence in him."

Anderson and cornerback Artrell Hawkins could see where the Bengals are coming from with the decision and didn't rip the move. The last time he played on a team with two kickers?

"I don't even know who our kickers are," Anderson joked.

"High school and college. Never in the pros," Hawkins said. "Both of them performed well. What are you going to do? Do you opt for Neil, who could be coming into his own? Or do you opt for Dorsch who is a young guy with a great upside. I can understand why they made their decision. Both are talented.

"I think there are guys behind (Rackers) and that's not to say they aren't behind Dorsch," Hawkins said. "I just think guys want to win and they saw what he did in camp. That's what I've taken away from the NFL that even with the players its 'What have you done for me lately?' They saw what he did in camp and what he's able to do. He pretty much started where he was at the end of last year, near the bottom, and he's come back."

Anderson thinks Rackers is on the verge of breaking out.

"Everybody knows there are practice guys and game guys," Anderson said. "It might be something that clicks on. But some guys can't translate that into a game. We know that, and ownership knows that when Neil does that, he'll be unbelievable."

The Vikings apparently coveted Dorsch in the fourth round, and if the Bengals hadn't taken with the 109th pick the Vikes very well might have taken him at No. 125..

Doug Brien, who came over from Tampa Bay as a free-agent this season, has unnerved the Vikes with his 1-for-5 effort this preseason. Minnesota plans Tuesday's work out for kickers Jon Hilbert, formerly of the Bears, and former Cowboys kicker Tim Seder.

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