Small world in NFL

3-19-01, 8 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The NFL is a funny place.

Bears cornerback Walt Harris has a good friend and former Chicago teammate named Tom Carter. When Carter got cut by the Bengals three weeks ago, it opened up another spot for Harris in his free-agency tour that took him to Paul Brown Stadium Monday to see the Bengals.

So Harris had a sounding board about the club and was impressed to hear that Carter, a highly-regarded locker-room presence, is settling in Cincinnati for the time being.

"That's a guy from Florida up north here," said Harris of Carter's St. Petersburg roots. "That says a lot about the city and he's a guy I well respect."

Harris, who turns 27 in training camp, is a former first-round pick with 14 interceptions in five seasons who says he's looking to play on a winner after never playing on a winning team.

But he also has two daughters.

Carter told Harris that the Bengals are headed in the right direction, which impressed Harris almost as much as, "his plans on staying here. That's something important to me and my family. Having a nice city where you can raise your kids and have a family orientation. I've heard good things about it as far as that goes."

The Bengals figure to hold off courting cornerbacks until they sort out their prospects at left tackle.

COACHING THEM UP: Neil Rackers is alive and kicking.

In fact, he's been back once to kick on the Paul Brown Stadium field where field goals went to die last year during his rookie season.

But Rackers is buoyed by the knowledge a new, kicker-friendly field is set to be installed at PBS and that his offseason of helping high school kickers has given him almost as much help.

"When you're helping kids, you go back to the basics and you can't help but go back to the basics yourself when you do it."

Rackers hasn't curled up since the end of a tough 12-for-21 season on field goals that ended when he clanged the left upright from 31 yards in Philadelphia Christmas Eve. He's committed to be in Cincinnati from now until training camp. Except for the week of his honeymoon. And the club's signing of veteran kicker Richie Cunningham on Friday didn't even merit a shrug.

"They told me from day one there was going to be competition in camp," Rackers said. "I expected it after last season. Let's do it. It makes you better."

Rackers has been helping young kickers around his suburban St. Louis home. Several of Rackers' friends are teachers and coaches and have asked him over to school. He's worked with six kickers one-on-one in sessions that have him kicking better.

"It just reminded me of stuff I can focus on as I train," Rackers said. "Just correcting and adjusting. I remind myself if the ball is going right, your plant foot is probably a little too far away from the ball. When the ball is left, your foot is probably a little closer to the ball, you're coming around it."

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