Still kicking

6-22-01, 7:00 p.m.

This weekend finds Will Brice back with the Bengals and Doug Pelfrey running his kicking camp.

The NFL?

It must stand for Never For Logic.

Pelfrey, one of Brice's biggest fans, is delighted his old teammate is back and getting another shot.

"He's got a great leg," Pelfrey says, "and he's a younger guy. That helps him. They didn't give him much of a chance (the first time). But he's got such a big leg, I guess you have to see what he can do."

Pelfrey also wants a second chance. Anywhere. Any team. Including the Home Town one.

As he works out with such kickers as Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts and David Akers of the Eagles, he continues to be exasperated at his inability to land a job since the Bengals released him 305 days ago.

Yet if Reds first baseman Sean Casey is "The Mayor," Pelfrey remains "The Governor."

This upcoming Monday and Tuesday at Triple Crown Country Club in Richwood, Ky., he hosts the seventh Kicks for Kids Golf Classic for charity.

But Pelfrey, who turns 31 two weeks into this season, wants to kick. And he's open to any team. Including the Bengals.

The Bengals still admire him and keep him in the back of their minds. Yet with Neil Rackers and Richie Cunningham in the fold, Pelfrey won't be an option unless the Days really aren't Happy at Paul Brown Stadium.

"How do you go from being the most accurate kicker in history," Pelfrey asks, "to not being able to get a job at a training camp?"

There is the money factor. Teams don't want to

pay kickers the veteran minimum salary of $477,000 by putting them on the Opening Day roster. Which explains why guys like Hall-of-Famer-to-be Morten Andersen, one-time perennial Pro Bowler John Carney, and Bengals Killer Al Del Greco are on the street.

Teams only get interested in those guys in the second week of the season, when the pay goes down.

And there is the kick-off factor, which hurts Pelfrey because he still lugs the "short," tag even though he had some chances to get rid of it.

"I know I can kick with these guys," Pelfrey says. "No doubt in my mind. I can get it inside the five-yard line consistently."

But start with 1999.

That's when Pelfrey and Brice were the biggest victims of the Bengals' Titanic job on special teams that began springing leaks with injuries to punter/holder Brad Costello and long snapper Greg Truitt.

Brice and Pelfrey are the first to say they should have produced no matter the circumstances. But they also admit the circumstances were pretty formidable. Between all the different snappers and holders, the kicking and punting operations were as smooth as a leisure suit.

Pelfrey ended the 1996 season as the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history with the same long snapper in Truitt and same holder in punter Lee Johnson for the previous three seasons.

Then Truitt got hurt in '98 and '99 and Johnson was released late in the 1998 season. Five long snappers and three holders later, Pelfrey went 18-for-27 in field goals during 1999 that included misses from 25 and 30 yards.

The Bengals responded by drafting Rackers in the sixth round of the 2000 draft and Pelfrey was the least surprised guy at Georgetown when he was cut Aug. 21.

At least Pelfrey knew it was coming. Brice got lopped after the 11th game of the '99 season when Costello was eligible to return from his injured thigh.

That just happened to coincide hours after Brice's best game in a 34-31 loss to Baltimore.

But it was also a season the Bengals had four punts deflected, including a Brice block in the end zone for a safety during a one-point loss in Tennessee.

The Bengals loved the power in Brice's leg, yet they also felt he wasn't consistent enough or athletic enough to deal with wayward snaps and get his booming punts off quickly.

Which is why the Bengals turned to the more athletic, more consistent Daniel Pope last season. The Bengals are enamored with the pop in Brice's foot and his potential as a kick-off guy that would put more heat on Rackers in his joust with Cunningham.

They hope Brice's maturity now matches his length. But he has an uphill climb to unseat Pope.

"What made it so hard," says Brice of his release, "is that we struggled for the first eight games or so. Then when we got everything together in the next two or three games and it looked like we were really improving, Brad was able to come back. The potential was there. We saw what we could do together."

After hearing head coach Bruce Coslet constantly get on Brice's deliberate style, Pelfrey watched film with Brice as they timed the best punters in the NFL. They concluded Brice's times at getting his punts off were pretty comparable.

"The word was I was too slow," says the 6-4 Brice. "We looked at film and it didn't really seem to be the case. It was the total operation that really hurt us. I'm not going to blame someone else because that wasn't the case, either. It was the total thing.

"There were a couple of breakdowns in protection. We had some bad snaps. I was slow at times," Brice says. "Overall, (being deliberate) got made more of a big deal than it was."

Brice, 24, could never figure out Colset. Did he want him? Or did he resent him because he wanted a guy with more experience once Costello went down and the Bengals needed a guy to punt in the pre-season finale?

"Bruce was kind of hard on me," Brice says. "He expressed himself in the papers and that's when I went to him and asked him what was the problem, what do I need to work on. If I don't know, I can't fix it. After that, things started to come together."

Brice, who didn't hook on with Philadelphia and Carolina after he left the Bengals, has no animosity to Coslet and doesn't think a new head coach in Dick LeBeau will matter much in his situation.

"I think I'm a better punter with more experience and the same ability," Brice says. "I'm looking forward to being back here and getting an opportunity at the job."

Coslet always joked about his disdain for kickers, but Pelfrey always seemed to sense there was something real about it directed at him. It wasn't a warm, fuzzy relationship, which some date to the day Pelfrey beat the Ravens at the gun in 1996 and Coslet declared after the game he never wanted to have to win another game on a field goal.

He never did.

But if there were problems there, Pelfrey is moving on. He's trying to figure out why he has kicked off well during workouts the past eight months for the Chiefs, Jets, Jaguars, Saints, and Panthers and can't get a job.

Everyone from Del Greco to Jan Stenerud has told him they can't figure out why he hasn't got a shot yet.

"I'm just going to keep trying," Pelfrey says. "When you know you can do something, it's hard to give it up. And I know I can do it because I'm doing it in my workouts."

Yes, LeBeau will be at Pelfrey's tournament, but don't read anything into it. Oh, Pelfrey might remind him who he is. But Anybody who is Somebody is going to be at Triple Crown because few athletes put on an event like Pelfrey.

He's got Hall-of-Famers from the NFL in Stenerud and Anthony Munoz, horse racing in Steve Cauthen and University of Kentucky basketball in Jack Givens and Kyle Macy.

He's also got future Hall-of-Famers in the NCAA Coaches' wing in Kentucky's Tubby Smith and Cincinnati's Bob Huggins. And he's got ESPN's Sterling Sharpe and Solomon Wilcots to cover it all.

But Pelfrey is hoping for a later appointment.

"I don't know what happened with that," Brice says. "He's got a lot of talent. He definitely has some years ahead of him. I hope he can catch on somewhere. I hope I can, too."

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