Punter heads college free agents

4-27-04, 3:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals are bringing a host of undrafted college free agents into next weekend's minicamp and only one of them has to beat out one guy to win a starting job.

They signed what they believe is the best undrafted punter available when they fended off several teams for Nebraska's Kyle Larson to set up a competition with veteran Kyle Richardson.

The 6-0, 205-pound Larson, who averaged nearly two punts inside the 20 per game during his career, kicked for the Bengals-coached North team in the Senior Bowl.

Also signed Tuesday were versatile Iowa State wide receiver Lance Young and Michigan linebacker Larry Stevens, making the transition after 13 career sacks as a defensive end.

"It's a position where we felt we needed some competition, so we're going to let the two Kyles go at it," said special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "We worked with him on some things during the (Senior Bowl) week and he struggled, but he went into the game and punted well. He's coachable; he's a real diligent worker. He has tools to play in this league. He's got a chance."

A finalist for the 2003 Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter, Larson set a school season record as a senior when he averaged 45.1 yards per attempt.

In 39 career games, only 86 of his 195 punts were returned. His 43.7 average included 66 attempts downed inside the 20.

The Bengals have said they're looking for more consistency from Richardson and hope he'll give it to them with a full training camp under him. After signing with the Bengals Oct. 7, Richardson did provide an upgrade over the final 11 games with a 40-yard average and a 33.5-yard net, but the net was one of the lowest in the AFC.

The 6-0, 182-pound Young caught 84 passes for 1,273 yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 15.2-yard average in 36 games at Iowa State after he transferred from Wisconsin and Coffeyville Community College. He also returned 47 kickoffs for a 21.2 average.

The 6-2, 245-pound Stevens was a two-year starter at left end for the Wolverines, where he had four sacks this past season.

The complete list of college free agents: Tyrone Armstrong, G, Pittsburgh State, Nick Ayers, RB, Georgetown College, Jamall Broussard, WR, San Jose State, Jeremiah Cockheran, WR, Hawaii, Derrick Crawford, DE, Texas A&M Commerce, Mondre Dickerson, DT, Tennessee, Eric Johnson, DT, Mount St. Joseph, Ibrahim Khan, OG, Simon Fraser, Kyle Larson, P, Nebraska, Marlus Mays, WR Northern Iowa, Michael Powers, C, Penn, Jonathan Pritchett, TE, Houston, Scott Rislov, QB, San Jose St., Larry Stevens, LB, Michigan, Alex Wade, FB, Duke, Wendell Williams, S, Louisiana-Lafayette, Michael Woolridge, TE, Eastern Kentucky, Lance Young, WR, Iowa State.

The Bengals are also going to try out some players at next weekend's minicamp, one of which is Cincinnati native Jon Schall, a center from Pittsburgh who played at Turpin High School.

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