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Kicking the tires

MOBILE, Ala. - The Bengals are hoping they can wrap up a deal for veteran kicker Randy Bullock any day and whether that precludes any training camp derby won't be answered as they peruse two of the next generation this week at the Senior Bowl.

"If I told you that I'd have to kill you," said special teams   coordinator Darrin Simmons before Tuesday's weigh-in. "The more people you can get your eyes on the better. If I told you all that I'd have to kill you."

The Bengals would kill to find an accurate kicker of any age after Mike Nugent missed six field goals and six extra points before losing his job of seven years with three games to go.

Even though the only field goal attempt Bullock missed for them was the winning 43-yarder at the gun in Houston for the Christmas Eve gift that put the Texans in the playoffs, it can't be a surprise the Bengals are looking to at least one veteran for what could be the first legit training camp competition in seven years.

Bullock would have to be the overriding favorite if he ends up signing. The M.O. in the 14 previous seasons Simmons has coached the Bengals special teams has been a recycled veteran. Nugent and Shayne Graham each kicked seven seasons for him. The two kickers with the most attempts after them are also recycled veterans in Bullock and Josh Brown. The last time they drafted a kicker was 24 years ago in the last eight-round draft, which is where they took Northern Kentucky's Doug Pelfrey.

"It doesn't mean I'm against going with rookie kickers, that's just how it's played out," said Simmons, who admits he likes the veteran advantages. "They've been in the fire before. They've experienced different situations and there's video of how they've reacted.

"It depends on what type of program he played at," he said of the rookies.  "The type of crowds, the type of pressure situations he faced. All that makes a difference."

 They are looking all over, too. To show you how volatile the position is on Monday night the Bengals attended a workout here of mostly young veteran kickers that weren't able to latch on with a team last year. Now the next two guys in the fire are Arizona State's Zane Gonzalez for the North and Memphis' Jake Elliott for the South in Saturday's Senior Bowl (2:30 p.m.-NFL Network) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

"It's putting a body type and frame with a name for right now," Simmons said. "I look at how they carry themselves through practice. It's something you don't get to see on tape.  For me it's all about the intangibles   that you can't see on tape."

Simmons' middle name could be "Intangible." He's always looking beyond a kick between the uprights whenever the Bengals host one of those "Idol," workouts at Paul Brown Stadium, where he's gauging how they react to the hits and misses of the others. Anything for a clue on how they'll respond to pressure.

Then you figure he'll have to take a good long look at the 6-1, 190-pound Gonzalez. Talk about pressure. As a high school senior at Deer Park in Houston, he opted for football over soccer when he realized he could get a scholarship as a kicker. A must when his father was laid off at one of the plants.

"I couldn't really afford to go somewhere and walk on," Gonzalez said. "I got the chance and made the most of my opportunity."

He's definitely got The Toe in this game as the nation's 2016 Lou Groza Award winner, making 92 percent of his 25 field-goal tries that included 7-for-9 from 50 yards and beyond in wrapping up one of the NCAA's most accomplished careers.  And, according to Pro Football, Gonzalez hit 42 percent of his kickoffs out of the back of the end zone compared to the FBS average of nine percent.

But welcome to the transitory world of NFL kicking. The last two Groza winners have yet to attempt an NFL field goal.

"You don't know where you're going to end up," Gonzalez said. "You hope you get thrown into a situation where you have a chance."

Gonzalez runs through his experiences in the Pac 12 and it's almost like he's been kicking in a mini AFC North, which may catch the Bengals' eye.

"UCLA at the Rose Bowl. USC at The Coliseum. Utah is probably the worst because it's very loud and the crowd never stops yelling," Gonzalez said. "There's cold weather and rainy in Seattle."

The night he set the NCAA record for most career field goals last season, he kicked three in a three-point win over UCLA. When he was a sophomore his 36-yarder in OT gave the No. 14 Sun Devils a huge one over No. 17 Utah. Both came at home, but he loves kicking on the road.

"I think (being on the road) helps players more because you don't have the focus of being at home," Gonzalez said. "You're with your teammates, you're locked in."

But Christmas at home this year was also memorable. His father is back working as an operator at Dow Chemical and he was rooting for the Texans to win the AFC South. So he was watching Bullock, his fellow Houston native, that night against the Bengals.

"I never wish badly on another kicker, but seeing that I was pretty pumped up for the Texans," Gonzalez said. "I can't imagine it. I felt bad for him, but he's a pro. He'll move on. He won the Lou Groza, too. He's a great kicker."

The Bengals are looking high and low for one of those. Left and right.

"We're trying to find somebody that can score," Simmons said. "I don't know how you can put a value on that."

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