Kicking joust joined

5-5-02, 7:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

While the quarterback controversy rages in sound bites and bold headlines, incumbent Neil Rackers and fourth-round draft pick Travis Dorsch on Sunday quietly started their joust for the Bengals' place-kicking duties.

"I wouldn't call it a competition," said special teams coach Al Roberts after the Sunday afternoon practice. "We're just trying to get them used to kicking behind guys and getting back to holding and snapping again. It was introductory."

In that case, at least one Bengals official called Kicking 101 for Rackers, the three-year veteran whose right foot has been put to the fire by the Dorsch drafting.

"Neil was impressive," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "He was aggressive, he was confident. He did what he usually does in practice and that's very, very good. Travis will have better days."

Rackers thinks it's a longshot that the Bengals will keep him over a draft choice, but apparently he wants to give them second thoughts if he goes because he came out ready.

As the only man in Big Ten history to lead the league in both punting and kicking, Dorsch had more good days at Purdue than bad. He is at ease in his first NFL locker room, maybe because he has been in big-time locker rooms since he can remember.

Ever since he was a ball boy at San Diego State and handing the pigskin to the most prolific offensive duo in NCAA history in running back Marshall Faulk and a skinny, speedy receiver named Darnay Scott who grew up to play for the Bengals. Travis' father, Steve, a government contractor for the Navy, was a friend of the Aztecs' program.

When the 6-6 Dorsch towered over him to get re-acquainted this weekend, Scott shook his head.

"You've grown a long way," Scott told him. "But you make me feel old."

Scott and Faulk used to come over to the Dorsch home on holidays and Travis spent a few Thanksgivings

giving thanks that he was breaking bread with his idols.

"They were really down-to-earth for guys with that that much ability," Dorsch said. "They always took time to spend five minutes talking to me. I was 10, 11 years old and you know when you're that age that those guys are like gods to kids. It's a great honor now to be in the same locker room with Darnay. It's pretty cool when you think about it. To be here with guys I've grown up watching on TV."

When the Bengals called his name two weeks ago, he went to his room and dug out his old rookie Darnay Scott trading cards from eight years ago. But now the cards talk back.

That is what minicamp is all about. Catch those butterflies and wash away the goose pimples and get into the real world. The real world is trying to beat out Rackers when only two NFL teams looked at him as a kicker and he actually feels more comfortable punting.

"I consider myself an athlete who kicks and punts," Dorsch said. "I feel like more of an athlete when I punt because I just let my ability take over. When I'm kicking, I really feel like I have to focus and bear down and everything has to be perfect because of how tall and rangy I am. Punting comes easier and naturally to me, but right now I've probably got more experience as a kicker."

The biggest knocks on Dorsch have been his slow swinging form because of his height, and his inconsistency on short distances. This past season he missed five extra points and he doesn't buy into theory that every great kicker has amnesia.

"They tell you that you have to block out the last kick and look to the future," Dorsch said. "I think you learn and grow from every experience that happens to you. I'm a big believer in the fact that if you remember each kick and learn something from each kick, it's how you become better.

"The big thing I took from Purdue is you have to treat the 20-yarders like you treat the 50-yarders," Dorsch said. "They call them chip shots, but there is no such thing as a chip shot."

Dorsch said this weekend is the first time he's kicked on grass since he was at school and he's looking forward to getting acclimated to the practice fields. He wants to keep "dabbling," in both kicking and punting and so do the Bengals. If he makes the team, they would have the luxury of easing a position crunch on game day by deactivating punter Nick Harris and letting Dorsch do both.

The Bengals know all about 6-6 punters. Pat McInally punted 10 seasons for them in the '70s and '80s and former teammate Dave Lapham saw him use the same deliberate kick.

"Special teams is a lot more sophisticated these days," said Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst. "They've got a lot more ways to come after you then when Pat was doing it."

But Scott doesn't want to hear about those old days.

"He makes me feel old," Scott said, "but it shows you what a small world it is."

Dorsch at least hopes it is a place where he can settle.

**

SCREENS AND DRAWS:** The Bengals backed off quarterback Gus Frerotte from throwing during Sunday's second practice after he threw in the morning session and in Saturday's practice. He said it was "just precautionary," after his first stint of back-to-back hard throwing since reconstructive shoulder surgery.

"There's no pain," Frerotte said. "But why push it? The season doesn't start for four months." Frerotte came from Denver, where Steve Beuerlein has missed two straight workouts after pain in his surgically repaired elbow derailed his comeback . . .

First-round pick Levi Jones continues to look good, but the one question hanging over him (can the 310-pound left tackle handle the bull rush?) won't begin to be answered until the pads go on July 26 at Georgetown College. . .

Jones' Arizona State teammate, guard Victor Leyva, is back after attending Friday's White House reception honoring Mexican Independence. Leyva introduced himself to President and Mrs. Bush in a reception line and had his picture taken with them.

"I told him I played for the Cincinnati Bengals and we shook hands, but, no, there was no small talk," Leyva said.. "He's on a pretty tight schedule, but it was a thrill. I hope they can get that picture up here."

Leyva, born in Mexico and raised in California from age 3, savored meeting his first president. The closest he came before the trip to the East Room was a few years ago, "when Clinton came to Arizona State and I was there, but you couldn't get near him." . . .

Backup left tackle John Jackson returned to practice Sunday following the death of his father over the weekend. . .

BOOKER COMES BACK: At 34, defensive end Vaughn Booker admitted he thought about hanging it up this offseason. He said he's got another year left in his body and he wanted to come back to a defense that had no turnover in its starting lineup.

"That's never happened to me

in my (nine seasons) years in the league," Booker said. "Where no player on defense left. That's another reason I wanted to come back. I'm excited about the players we have on defense and what we can accomplish this year. Plus, the coaches wanted me back and that's always satisfying."

Booker, who has three years left on his contract, hinted this very well could be his last season. He has never said he is a workout warrior and admitted he hasn't done much this offseason.

"No, no," Booker said. "But when I have to be ready , I'll be ready. This is the offseason. To me football is attention to detail on Sunday. When the ball is snapped, football is 22 guys on the field trying to beat the hell out of each other."

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