Rackers still kicking

10-24-01, 8:00 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals special teams coach Al Roberts figures he'll get an answer on kicker Neil Rackers soon enough.

Rackers heads to the kicking comforts of Detroit's Silverdome this Sunday after missing six of his last nine field-goal tries. He went to work Wednesday, a day after the Bengals brought in three kickers for a workout. They didn't sign one of them, but they made it clear they may later.

"This is going to make him awfully, awfully strong," Roberts said, "or it's going to race him out of here. That's what we talked about today."

There have been suggestions Rackers needs a sports psychologist, but in Roberts he has a deeply religious man who spends a lot of time talking to him about the inner game. After Rackers hit 18 of 20 field goals in practice Wednesday, Roberts thought he saw something different.

"Sometimes we cry tears, sometimes we sweat out our sweat pores. But until you bleed out of your sweat pores. . .I think we might have seen that today," Roberts said. "Where you

saw a drop or two of blood run out of his forehead that says he'll be disciplined. That when he doesn't do every little thing in his routine, it makes him almost throw up. He cares. It's not a question of that."

The problems have now spread off the field. Rackers and his new wife, Rachel, went out earlier in the week and things were uncomfortable in public. Rackers heard things not directed at him, but things he was clearly meant to hear.

"In the third person," Rackers said.

"It honestly doesn't really bother me," Rackers said. "It's almost reached a point where it's funny because people really have no clue what we do or what's going on. The fact it bothers my wife, that bothers me."

Roberts can see it and he thinks Rackers is handling it well.

"He's an emotional kid," Roberts said. "Everyone is calling him, people are booing him on the football field, he's getting a lot of attention from the coaches, from the players. . . It's the first time he's gone through something like this. It's the first time his wife has gone through something like this. The world is responding and he doesn't like the way it's responding."

Roberts says Rackers actually hit 19.5 of his 20 tries because of the narrower goal posts used in practice. Although they weren't particularly long kicks, Rackers said, "You can tell when they go 55 yards."

Rackers has no explanation why he went 18-for-20 in practice after going 6-for-12 in games: "It makes you (mad) to tell you the truth."

Rackers doesn't blame the Bengals for looking at other kickers. He doesn't know how much of a rope he has left.

"It all depends on how things go," Rackers said. "I don't know.

"I don't know if I'm too stupid and I just don't think about it," Rackers said. "I just go back to work. I'm thick headed. Just kind of in one ear and out the other and keep going. . .It kills you or makes you stronger."

JUST KICKING: The major reason the Bengals have kept Rackers this long is because of his ability to kick off. Bengals punter Nick Harris has toyed with kicking off in the last couple of weeks for the first time in his career and plans to work on it during the offseason.

But Harris and the club isn't expecting great things

right away.

"I know it looks easy, just like punting," Harris said. "You put the ball up on the tee and just go. But it's a completely different thing. Punting, field goals, and kickoffs are three completely different things. You really can't transfer one to the other.

"I was a soccer player in high school with a pretty good foot," Harris said. "Kicking off is something I've always wanted to do because you've always got a job. But (in college) we had a guy like Neil who could just boom it."

Although special teams coach Al Roberts loves Harris' foot, he's not making any future plans: "Coming to kicking so late in his career, I'd say he would only end up being about average. If you use your leg for a punting motion and then use it for a motion (to kick off), you can see how different the muscles are to do each."

BEAN OUT: Bengals trainer Paul Sparling ruled cornerback Robert Bean out for Sunday's game with his hamstring injury and expects him back for the Nov. 11 game in Jacksonville. That's when Sparling also expects defensive tackle Tony Williams to return after he suffered a mid-foot sprain against Pittsburgh Oct. 7.

THIS AND THAT: Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon celebrated his 27th birthday Wednesday by sharing with teammates a birthday cake he thought was sent by his wife that featured a picture of Dillon carrying the ball. He then won some money off fullback Nick Williams on the basketball court in a game of "HORSE." . .

Speaking of Williams, Wednesday was kind of a birthday for him. It was five months to the day of the

reconstructive surgery on the knee in which he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He expects to be cleared to practice when he visits Dr. James Andrews this upcoming Monday.

But even though Williams is eligible to start practicing Wednesday, it's doubtful that he will. By putting Williams on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, the Bengals have three weeks to get him back to practice. Then once he starts practicing, they have three more weeks to decide if they will activate him, cut him, or shelve him for the rest of the year on injured reserve.

"I'm cutting and shifting full speed," Williams said. "I never thought I'd be this fast so soon. I have no pain and very little swelling. I feel I'm ready to go." His weight had been a big concern, but he says he needs to lose just five pounds to get to 265 pounds. . .

DE Vaughn Booker may not be ready. He didn't play Sunday after an injection failed to soothe an inflamed right ankle in which he has some arthritis, didn't practice Wednesday, and is questionable. . .CB Tom Carter (bruised right knee) did practice and is probable. . .DL Bernard Whittington (knee) was limited Wednesday, but is expected to be ready.

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