Kickers leg to end

8-27-02, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The closest race on the Bengals' roster is still boiling hours after head coach Dick LeBeau decided the quarterback derby in favor of Gus Frerotte.

But don't look for the Bengals to keep both field-goal kickers. When they have to lop a dozen players Sunday to get to 53 players, veteran Neil Rackers or rookie Travis Dorsch figures to be on the list.

But the fact neither was cut Monday shows how close the race is. Two days after the third pre-season game in 2000, the Bengals cut veteran Doug Pelfrey to give all the work in the pre-season finale to the rookie Rackers. Yet with Dorsch leading off, they will both kick in Thursday night's finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Falcons.

"If there was a leader, they both wouldn't be here," said Bengals President Mike Brown during Monday's practice at PBS. "We've been happy with them and we talked about keeping both. But it's very difficult to keep two kickers. The only reason teams do that is if one isn't long enough (for kickoffs or field goals.) But both these guys are long, so you wouldn't need two of them."

Dorsch is of the mindset that he

would think about asking them to release him if the Bengals decided to keep him and Rackers.

"It's similar to the quarterbacks in you want guy who can go out there every week that you can depend on in any situation," Dorsch said. "If (keeping both) is the case, I would almost ask them to release me and let me go on and do something else. I think we've both performed well enough to earn a spot in the league. Whether one of us is here, I think we've earned that."

You won't get any argument from the Bengals. Rackers is 4-for-4 on field goals with a long of 44 and Dorsch is 3-for-3 with a long of 36. Rackers has been longer on kickoffs, but Dorsch has been higher.

"And the coverage has responded to both," said special teams coach Al Roberts. "Pretty even in the games? How about real even? There's hardly any separation. None. So you look for anything. In training camp competitions, on the days they competed, Rackers missed two and Dorsch three. We'll see what happens."

One school of thought is: How can you trust Rackers when he's had great camps and made just 59 percent of his kicks in two regular seasons? And how can you waste the fourth-round pick used to take Dorsch, who has done everything asked?

The other school is: What if Rackers has matured and his tremendous potential is about to blossom, and he just flat out has been better?

"There's no question that Neil has changed and matured," Roberts said. "Travis has really come on after getting settled the first few weeks."

Even Dorsch said, "I don't think I've done anything to lose the job and I don't think I've done anything to win it, either. But I've worked hard and I have no regrets whatever the results."

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