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Roster buzz at fever pitch

Dave Rayner

With the final preseason game in 72 hours and the final cuts looming on Saturday, this is the only week of the year the final 10 spots on an NFL roster get the exposure of franchise quarterbacks.

After the Bengals practiced Monday in Paul Brown Stadium, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and special teams coach Darrin Simmons weighed in on a few key questions. As in Bratkowski said keeping only two quarterbacks and four tight ends have been discussed and Simmons says it is too early to make a call in the kicking competition between Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner.

Nugent hit a 54-yarder Saturday in Buffalo, a distance the Bengals haven't had in the regular season since Neil Rackers hit a 54-yarder in the 2002 opener. Simmons says Nugent has told him his groin is getting stronger and feels better after he didn't try field goals in the first two games because it was sore.  

"We've rode the train this far, we might as well ride it all the way through," Simmons said. "It's a tough call. A gut call. A gut feeling."

Although Bratkowski has said keeping just two quarterbacks has been discussed, head coach Marvin Lewis has always had three. And Bratkowski made keeping two sound like a longshot.  

"It's not a no-way-that-won't-happen-type deal," said Bratkowski, who calls the play of backups J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer "sporadic."

"There are stretches of some things that are good and some things that aren't good," he said. "They've got another run at it this week and we'll see if we can clean up the not good things."

Speculation has been rampant the Bengals will do what they did in 2007, when they traded for Rams backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and brought him in here the week of the opener. A tough nut from a learning standpoint, Bratkowski said. Not only did Fitzpatrick have enough brains to go to Harvard, he was familiar with many elements of the offense because quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese once worked under Mike Martz in St. Louis.

"That would be a difficult thing to do. Not impossible, but difficult," said Bratkowski of the timing to start teaching the quarterback the offense. (Going to Harvard) helps. He also had experience in our style. That makes a difference, too."

Bratkowski also made keeping five receivers instead of six sound like fantasy. In Bratkowski's nine previous seasons with the Bengals, they've always kept six.

"I would say it's in the realm of possibility," he said. "It's not normal. Normal for us is six. Generally it is six. We could be at five. We could be at five with a contingency plan. We'll see how the cuts fall out."

Keeping four tight ends and no fullbacks sounded more feasible, considering that fullback Fui Vakapuna's injured shoulder hasn't allowed him to play one game. Plus, the Bengals already did that in 2008 when fullback Jeremi Johnson went down for the year in the first week of the season. It limits the Bengals in red zone and goal line, but he says it wouldn't be a dire situation.

"We have alternatives. We can use tight ends back there and it's something we've been doing," Bratkowski said. "Once Fui got hurt in camp, we had to have Plan B. The second plan would be to have the tight ends play fullback. I don't know that it would limit you greatly.

"The hardest things for the tight end at fullback is the downhill isolation blocks. A lot of the other things we do are easy enough for them to do."

Bratkowski thought his tight ends did OK in the backfield Saturday night.

"I thought they did well enough," he said.

So it looks like Dan Coats has a very real shot to make the team if Vakapuna doesn't make a sudden and dramatic recovery.

Simmons is high on one guy that didn't make it, University of Cincinnati rookie long snapper Mike Windt, cut Sunday when he couldn't beat out veteran Clark Harris. Simmons thinks Windt helped himself immensely getting four NFL games on tape and won't be surprised if he gets called elsewhere.

"He did a good job. He just has to continue working at the details," he said. "You never know. Now we know him, now we know who he is. If we ever run into something  where we needed to have somebody, we've got somebody in the bullpen."

Simmons is always a key figure in any roster cutdown. For instance, he says this is the best wide receiver Jerome Simpson has looked on special teams in his three NFL seasons after a spring and summer Simmons has consistently put him at gunner on punt coverage and he's looking to use his large wingspan to block some kicks against the Colts. And Simpson will get plenty of looks Thursday in Indianapolis in what Simmons stresses is not a throwaway game.

"If it was, we'd only have one kicker," Simmons said.

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