BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, KY. _ Doug Pelfrey isn't sure what to think and he's not going to speculate. He asked the Bengals before the first two preseason games if he could kickoff to show his improvement, but each time he didn't get the call.
That would seem to suggest the Bengals plan to cut their long-time kicker after Saturday night's game. But the team says no decision has been made to go with sixth-round pick Neil Rackers after he kicked off two balls into the end zone and made field goals of 47 and 41 yards Friday night in Atlanta.
Asked if he would like a shot to kick a field goal from at least 40 yards Saturday, Pelfrey said, "Sure." His longest attempt was 29, which got blocked, and he has made kicks of 26 and 20.
"They didn't give a reason and I can't control it," Pelfrey said of kicking it off. "(Rackers) is doing well and I'm having a good camp. I'm not going to cut myself or read into everything or speculate publicly on what I think is going to happen. I'm going to have a good week of practice and I'm hopeful to have a good game Saturday night and see what they do."
Pelfrey, 29, the Northern Kentucky native who stayed home to become one of the most accurate kickers in the game until a few years ago, realizes this might be his last week as a Bengal.
"Could be," Pelfrey said. "I don't dwell on it a whole lot."
Special teams coach Al Roberts says it's too early to call. Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' director of pro/college personnel, said Pelfrey has quickened his approach to the ball and looked "close to his old self," at last Wednesday night's practice.
"I can't worry about how Neil does," Pelfrey said. " or what Mike (Brown) thinks or Bruce (Coslet) or Jim Lippincott or anyone else. I just have to take care of my kicking."
Lippincott thinks Saturday's game will be "crucial," in the decision. The Bengals figure to cut a punter and kicker before the Aug. 22 cutdown to 65 players.
Pelfrey will no doubt be in demand if he gets lopped. For instance, the Panthers lost kicker John Kasay this morning for the season with a broken leg.
DELIGHTFUL DILLON: Any concern Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon was going to be moody and bitter after his contract stalemate ended late last week quickly ended today during his first day of practice here at Georgetown College. He spoke with reporters as long as they needed him, ran his across-the-field sprints in under the required 38 seconds, and stayed after practice to sign autographs.
Dillon had balked at signing his one-year, $3 million contract because of the Carl Pickens Clause that would expose his $1 million signing bonus if he violated loyalty language. He had expressed concern about talking to the media with such a clause in his contract, but he offered the reporters only gems today instead of bombs.
Last year, Dillon said he was "starving," for individual and team success. Asked today if he was still starving, Dillon said, "Oh yeah. I'm a hostage. I'm in Beirut." Asked his impressions about first-round pick Peter Warrick, Dillon said, "He's a little monster. He's quick. He's good." Asked about goals, Dillon said, "I'm just trying to get my ugly four yards (per carrry)."
Dillon said the only problem he might have had under the Pickens Clause was back on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville after he didn't play because of his sore knee. Dillon told reporters he wanted out of Cincinnati and he was furious with unnamed assistant coaches he said questioned his desire to play. But that was all forgotten today.
"It's all cleared up from what I've seen. In my mind it's over with," Dillon said. "It's not a problem. Believe me, if there was still a problem, I'd be sitting at home. I'm here, so it's not a problem."
Dillon came in a few pounds over his playing weight of 225, but he should be at his number when he makes his 2000 debut Saturday night.
POPE CALLED?:Punter Dan Pope is waiting for the puff of white smoke from Bengals' brass after Saturday's game to see if he or Brad Costello make the team. The competition between Pope, who had a solid rookie season for the Chiefs last year, and Costello, who has punted in just eight games during his two Bengal seasons, is also being called a tossup. But Pope's athleticism and consistency is grading out higher than Costello's marks in those categories. Pope, a former University of Alabama punter, is also getting a long look because he usually isn't as deliberate as Costello.
It doesn't help Pope that he doesn't kickoff, but his holding on kicks could help him. Costello also has decent hands. Pope had a hand in both of Rackers' field goals. He scooped up a low snap on the 47-yarder and pulled down a high one on the 41-yarder. Pope took advantage of being in Detroit's camp last year with veteran punter John Jett.
"He's the best holder in the league," Pope said. "I sat behind him so I could mimic his technique. He's real smooth the way he's able to catch it and feel the laces in his hand when he puts it down."
CUTS: The Bengals cut five players today, including cornerback Roosevelt Blackmon. Blackmon, who made his first three NFL starts last year, got beat on the Falcons' first of three touchdown passes Friday night in Atlanta. He got cleared to practice for training camp after undergoing surgery on an injured ankle that wiped out his last eight games of 1999. Also waived was tackle Tony Coats, a seventh-round pick last season out of Washington. Three college free agents also got the ax when they released safety Gary Thompkins (West Virgina) and receivers Eddie Hardaway (C.W. Post) and Tariq McDonald (Arizona State), leaving 73 on the roster. That means eight have to go by Aug. 22.
INJURY UPDATE: CB Rodney Heath, limited in today's practice with a right shoulder sprain, is probable for Saturday. . .RB Sedrick Shaw sat out today's practice with a persistent headache and could have a mild form of post-concussion syndrome. . .CB Brian Gray has a mild turf toe and is probable. . .DL Tom Barndt (chest) has been upgraded to doubtful for Saturday. . .FS Greg Myers (knee) is out for the second straight week after getting injured against the Bills.