8-2-02, 7:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Round One of the Bengals kicking derby went to incumbent Neil Rackers Thursday night when he hit all but one field goal in a five-minute drill.
Rookie Travis Dorsch, the favored fourth-rounder who expected to be drafted as a punter, had a better night punting. He missed three field goals, from 38, 42 and 53 yards, and emerged from training camp's first recorded competition saying he doesn't get the sense the Bengals want to keep him as a punter and that he has to improve his kicking.
"I said all along it's difficult to beat Rackers out in practice," said special teams coach Al Roberts. "He's (always been) tremendous. I thought he showed he's a better kicker tonight just from his disposition. Before, he was a little emotional and jacked up. Now, it looked like he was mature and got himself ready to kick."
Rackers walked over to some hecklers on the sidelines heaping him with verbal abuse and had a few words before going out and drilling everything but a 47-yarder. Roberts began the drill with point-after-attempts and then kept moving the ball back about every five yards for five minutes. They had two shots each at the longer kicks.
"I punted better than I thought I would," said Dorsch, who appeared to shove all his misses to the right. "It's a little frustrating. I have to keep my
head down and focus, and eventually it will come together. I have to get used to everything. The crowd. The guys around me. Those aren't excuses. Those are things I have to get used to and it's my job as a professional athlete to adjust."
The Bengals drafted Dorsch after Rackers ended his first two seasons with a 59 career field-goal percentage. But Dorsch, the first player to lead the Big Ten in kicking and punting last year at Purdue, seems to be showing the effects of a winter in which he concentrated mainly on punting.
"I would love to punt, but I don't think that's why I'm here," Dorsch said. "Punting is what I focused 90 percent of my time on from the end of my season until the draft. I'm still getting back into the kicking. If you had told me back in January the Bengals were going to draft me as a kicker, maybe I would have focused more energy on it then. But these aren't excuses. These are things I have to do."
At the moment, it appears Nick Harris has a pretty good hold on the punting job. Harris, himself a fourth-rounder last year when Denver released him, is regarded as a potentially premier NFL punter after a dominating college career at California.
"He's had a good camp and he still hasn't punted yet the way he did in May when he had some great weeks," Roberts said.
Roberts said he held off from recording the first week of kicking in the competition so that Dorsch could familiarize himself with his surroundings.
"If a rookie is going to come out and compete," Roberts said, "he has to know who his snappers are and who his holders are."
There is a shot the Bengals could keep Rackers, Dorsch, and Harris all on the roster, yet Bengals President Mike Brown said this week, "Something could happen to change it, but I don't think it is in the cards."
SCRIMMAGE TALK:** Head coach Dick LeBeau said all four quarterbacks will get 10 snaps each in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, or more if they have a drive going. No. 1 Jon Kitna gets the first call against the first defense.
Here's a sure sign the scrimmage is upon us. Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon has been suddenly listed as probable with a sore arch in his foot, but do you think they really want him to get touched Saturday? He has
missed the last two scrimmages with a 2000 holdout and when LeBeau held him out last year, and Dillon has still managed to eke out more than 2,700 yards.
Also probable are LOLB Steve Foley (hip flexor), CB Rodney Heath (ankle), and ROLB Takeo Spikes (hamstring). Out for Saturday are WR Danny Farmer (hamstring), CB Artrell Hawkins (knee), DE Eric Ogbogu (calf), TE Matt Schobel (rib), WR Michael Westbrook (wrist), LT John Jackson (groin). WR Ron Dugans (Achilles tendonitis) is questionable.
UPBEAT LEBEAU:** The thing LeBeau liked about Wednesday's chippy practice came when the Bengals regained their composure, something they didn't do in losses at Jacksonville and Baltimore last year.
"We quickly gathered it up and stepped back into a very functional practice," LeBeau said. "That's exactly what we have to do in a game. What I'm trying to (stress) in periods like that is to have focus and control your emotions. If you react, you have to realize that it is 15 yards against our football team and nobody is worth that.
"I don't think there's any question that we're closer and more focused," LeBeau said. "The attitude and tenor of this team has been very good, very positive and I think we have made strides."
UNDER THE LIGHTS: Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau patted himself on the back with tongue firmly in cheek for scheduling a night practice on the hottest day of camp: "We've been working on that. Predicting the weather when we make up the schedule six months in advance."
An autograph session before the practice added to the cool of the evening. Sitting at tables and chairs ringing the field, the players signed for about 30 minutes. The V.I.P. tables had Corey Dillon and Peter Warrick at one and Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes at the other. A fireworks displayed followed the practice, an even that will be repeated at the Aug. 15 practice.
WHEW:** The reported seven-year, $50 million deal for Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis that included $19 million guaranteed caught the attention of middle linebacker Brian Simmons and right outside linebacker Takeo Spikes as the Bengals bid to extend both their contracts before they go into free agency next season.
"Whew," Simmons said. "That's
a lot of money."
Their agents also noticed. Todd France, Spikes' agent, called him first thing Thursday morning. Simmons gave an early call to his guy, Jerrold Colton.
"It impacts Brian in a few ways," Colton said. "It shows how other teams in the Bengals' division are taking care of their players and how important they value the position. It obviously drives the market up."
That said, Simmons isn't looking for a Ray Lewis deal, knowing Lewis has been a league MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and a perennial Pro Bowler.
"I don't think any other linebacker in the league is going to get a deal like that," Simmons said. "I'm not worried about what someone else gets. I just want to get my value. When I get a number I think is fair, I'm ready to sign. I'm not going to sign because of what someone else got. I've got a number and you have to be realistic."
The Bengals had no comment as they wait to see the official numbers. The Lewis deal may not drive up the one-year offer that comes with a transition or franchise designation in free agency, which is calculated on the top 10 and top five salaries at that position the previous season. That's because the Ravens reportedly lowered Lewis salary cap number for '02.