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Pelfrey Knows the Score

Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey was back at it at Spinney Field on Monday morning, drilling 27 of his 31 field-goal tries.

He nailed six of seven from 50 yards and beyond, including a bomb from 56. One from 54. Another from 53.

But he knows what the stat of the day is.

Sixth round.

That's where the Bengals took Illinois kicker Neil Rackers on Sunday in the NFL Draft. And if anyone knows what that means, it's William Douglas Pelfrey, who grew up in Edgewood, Ky., went to Scott High School, and stayed home to live in Florence.

Let the competition begin.

"I've been a Bengals fan for years. I know the history of this team," Pelfrey said. "I was a drafted kicker and I beat out Jim Breech. I understand. It's pretty obvious. No one rushed to my defense last year. When all the trouble was going on, Mike or Bruce or Al didn't say anything publicly. I can get a feel for what they're thinking."

Pelfrey spoke with special teams coach Al Roberts on Monday morning -- his first contact with the team since the draft -- and couldn't hide his disappointment. He recalled when he was drafted in the eighth round out of Kentucky in 1993 and replaced Breech, the club's all-time leading scorer.

Roberts, president Mike Brown and head coach Bruce Coslet all have high regard for Pelfrey as a man and kicker, even if Pelfrey doubts their feelings.

"I feel like I'm a lot better respected throughout the rest of the league than I am in this area," Pelfrey said.

But when Roberts made the Rackers announcement Sunday, he was wearing a shirt from Pelfrey's Kicks for Kids charity for a reason. To show his support.

"We've killed him the last few years with the long snapping here," Roberts said. "We've destroyed him. At the same time, when all the stuff is falling around him, we need Doug to fight through it. There's nothing wrong with competition. I think Doug is going to fly as high as ever."

Pelfrey ended the 1996 season as the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history, with the same long snapper in Greg Truitt and same holder in punter Lee Johnson. Then Truitt got hurt the last two seasons. Then Johnson was released late in the 1998 season. Then Pelfrey's new holder, punter Brad Costello, missed most of last season with a thigh injury. Five snappers and three holders later, Pelfrey finished '99 at 18-for-27 in field goals, including misses from 25 and 30 yards.

"I'm as good or better than any kicker in the league, but I need some help," Pelfrey said. "I had the continuity. I had the (snapper and holder) ... But I'm going to keep going about my business. I'm going to keep smiling, have fun and whatever happens, happens."

The Bengals tried to get Pelfrey help in the seventh round when they picked Southwest Missouri State linebacker Brad St. Louis, a pure long snapper in the mold of Truitt, who is virtually automatic. Roberts figures that if Pelfrey and Rackers get consistent snaps, the competition will be fair. It could very well revive Pelfrey, who turns 30 during he first season's first month and has plenty of years left.

But St. Louis also makes it harder for kickers to make the club because he's a specialist, which means the Bengals couldn't keep both a kickoff man and field-goal kicker. The Bengals have never seen Pelfrey as a kickoff guy, although he says he can do it.

"There's the tension it creates for my family and friends," Pelfrey said. "It bothers them more than me because I know I'll get picked up by a team, unless they release me the fourth week of preseason."

Akili pumped

After his workout Monday, quarterback Akili Smith caught himself day-dreaming about throwing to the Florida State rookies in first-rounder Peter Warrick and third-rounder Ron Dugans. He plans to call Warrick every day before next week's minicamp to remind him to study the two play books the coaches gave him during his jet stop here last Saturday.

But Smith was also pumped up at the impending signing of college free agent Tony Hartley, one of his receivers at Oregon. The 6-foot, 196-pound Hartley caught passes for 1015 yards and 10 touchdowns from Smith in '98 and finished with 49 catches for 768 yards and three touchdowns last year.

"He's not a burner," Smith said. "But he runs good routes and has great hands. You won't see him drop a ball."

Now Smith has two of his own college receivers in Hartley and Damon Griffin.

No. 80

Roberts likes to call players by their numbers, and he's already saying No. 80 is down as his No. 1 punt returner. But he's also saying not to forget about No. 84.

Warrick is No. 80. No. 84 is receiver Craig Yeast, who returned two punts for touchdowns as a rookie last season. Roberts is thinking about lining up both of them back there, "but the problem is, one of them has to end up blocking, but it's something to think about. If No. 80 is going to be Deion Sanders, let's find out. But you've got to love Yeast. He touched it 10 times (on punts) and scored twice."

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