Price of consistency

3-6-04, 10:30 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

One of the most famous lines in movie history is the little kid's cry of "Come back, Shane. Come back."

That's precisely what the Bengals said to Shayne Graham Friday in completing their kicker's made-for-Hollywood script. Six months to the week he had been released for the fifth time and the Bengals picked him off the waiver wire, they matched Jacksonville's five-year, $6.5 million offer that puts Graham in the elite crop of kickers averaging the top five number of $1.3 million per year.

"He was speechless when I talked to him Thursday night," said Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "He never dreamed he would ever make any kind of money like that. But he's not going to change. He's a guy who has worked extremely hard and he knows now he's got to keep it going."

Simmons, architect of one of the NFL's biggest turnarounds on special teams this past season, admitted Friday, "I'm more relieved than anything." It was Graham's franchise-record 22-for-25 percentage on field goals that became the centerpiece of the Bengals' rise from last in total special teams in 2002 to 25th in 2003.

But it looks like the commitment head coach Marvin Lewis brought to special teams isn't going to "waiver," as in always trying to find help off the waiver wire. At the end of last season, the club wrapped up long snapper Brad St. Louis in a six-year extension and now Graham's five-year deal gives them that consistency Simmons feels is so vital to the kicking game.

"It's important for the sake of continuity to keep guys together, especially when one of the biggest things you're looking for from your kicker is getting into a rhythm," Simmons said. "Look at a kicker like Matt Stover who went through so many holders, but he always had Brian Kinchen snapping the ball to him. It's so important mentally to stay together."

Simmons may like Graham's head as much as his leg, and that was a major reason they opted for him when they saw his name on the waiver wire so close to the beginning of the season even though he had kicked in just 17 NFL games and their own Neil Rackers was coming off an effective if little-used season. Simmons worked with Graham the year before in Carolina, and had been impressed how he responded in place of the injured John Kasay.

"He's somebody I feel comfortable with," Simmons said. "He's a hard worker, a self- starter. Even though he had limited game experience, we were still sold on the fact one of his biggest assets is his mental makeup. How focused and strong he is mentally. He doesn't let stuff bother him and that's the one thing any specialist has to do. Learn to go to the next play."

Simmons and Graham know they have to work on kickoffs, but even that had Simmons shaking his head in admiration. '03 was his first full year kicking the ball off since high school.

"The Bengals were really the first team that told me I was their guy and to just go out and do it," Graham said. "Marvin and Darrin have been so good to me in that way. I didn't know if they would match, but I'm happy they did. It's a good feeling. I think people having confidence in me has probably been the biggest thing."

Although Graham said he didn't get an offer from the Bengals before free agency started, he took note of the $3 million in guaranteed money. But he still sounds like the same guy that had to drive to his new gig from Carolina to Virginia to Cincinnati with his workout stuff, just like he did at all the previous tryouts and camps.

This week, he didn't have to take a thing to Jacksonville but his pen.

"They treated me very well. They showed me the town and impressed me with the beaches," Graham said. "It was 85 degrees when I was down there and it was beautiful."

It turned out, the Bengals gave him everything the Jags had but the beaches.

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