Rackers has field day

7-06-01, 12:10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Neil Rackers, who just returned from his honeymoon, started another one Thursday with his new field.

"That grass is so good," Rackers raved, "it's like kicking on turf."

Rackers romped into the uncharted greensward and drilled his first five field-goal tries from about 40 yards off Paul Brown Stadium's suddenly plush grass.

And he was so delighted, Rackers didn't flinch when groundskeeper Doug Bradley politely asked him to work elsewhere after the fifth kick so Bradley can keep it lush.

"No problem," Rackers told him. "If you need a guy to water it, give me a call. You guys have done a phenomenal job. It's

beautiful."

They may have to keep a new stat for Rackers: field- goal percentage on Bermuda grass and field-goal percentage on Kentucky bluegrass.

Last year his rookie season was mired in the Bermuda triangle, when he missed five of 11 field-goal tries on the bombed-out PBS' grass. He had company because opposing kickers from one-time Pro Bowlers Al Del Greco (miss from 33 yards) to Jason Elam (two misses from 48) were just a combined 9 of 14.

But Rackers also knows that he was just 6-for-10 on the road and that veteran Richie Cunningham has been brought in to provide spirited training camp jockeying. Not to mention punter Will Brice, who is being eyed to push Rackers on kickoffs.

"We didn't evaluate him on what he did here because everyone missed on this field," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of pro/college personnel. "But his percentage wasn't very good on the road, either, and that's a concern. But he's got a lot of talent with that big leg."

Things should be a bit easier on the bluegrass. The Bermuda field never took hold last year and kickers spent Sunday afternoons looking for that rare firm grassy spot that wasn't sliding around in the sand.

"You can't even tell where you kicked it from out there today, which is amazing," Rackers said. "It didn't leave any spots. And there's no sign of the grass sliding around. It's holding in place. Last year at this time, it looked green, but you could tell it was sliding around in the sand underneath. It was no one's fault. That's just the way it was. Yeah, it is like night and day out there."

The Bengals' practice fields are also bluegrass, on which Rackers says he has always enjoyed good consistency. But he says he likes the stadium bluegrass even better.

"At this point, I was hoping the roots would be three or four inches into the ground," Bradley said of a field installed six weeks ago. "But they're seven and eight inches into the ground already. We had a little stress about 10 days ago with some hot weather, but we're also getting cool nights and some good rainstorms. We're just going to keep working at it."

So is Rackers, who is enthused after a back-to-basics offseason.

"I'm going to keep doing what got me here," Rackers said. "I'm not going to change very much."

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