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Bengals Gab Looks at Special Teams

  

As the offseason activity dies down and we roll towards the promise of football again under the summer sun, let us look to the future! Bengals Gab will be looking at each of the individual position groups on the team over the next several days, providing readers with a grade on each and a primer as training camp and the preseason approaches.

With training camp underway, we finish up with the all-too-important specialists.

The sad and often overlooked aspect of NFL football is that 60 minutes worth of amazing athletic feats, shrewd coaching strategy, blood, sweat, and broken bones can culminate and resolve itself on the foot of a kicker.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve examined the ‘important’ roles on offense and defense; those players most likely to play a majority of the game’s snaps and suffer the majority of the games pains. Now we look at the specialists—those players that may play only a handful of snaps in a game, but upon whom victory or defeat too often depend.

Here’s a look at each position:

Placekicker:  It’s no secret that I was one of the throng of fans that cheered when longtime kicker Shayne Graham was not re-signed. While stats showed that “Moonlight” was generally consistent, his weak leg and inability to nail the ones that counted the most eventually wore out his welcome in Cincinnati. Who will kick for the Bengals this year is largely a matter yet to be decided.

Dave Rayner and Mike Nugent will conduct a battle royale during the preseason to determine who will be the one lining up to make the big kicks in 2010.  Look for Nugent, who comes with a stronger leg, better resume, and an Ohio State pedigree, to win the job.

However, neither has been overly successful of late, so this will be an area of concern at least in the early going.

Long-snapper:  Like kicker, this job is up-for-grabs during the preseason.  Clark Harris provided stability and consistency as a mid-season replacement for the suddenly-erratic Brad St. Louis, but he’ll have some competition in the form of Cincinnati Bearcats product Mike Windt.  Windt worked with punter Kevin Huber in college and may have the inside track in this race because of it.

Either way, I’m expecting the long snapper to be largely unnoticed in 2010—which is a good thing.

Punter:  Kevin Huber had an impressive rookie year, winning the coveted Jim Breech Gabbie for his work.  The team opted not to waste a camp spot on competition for Huber, so the job is his. Huber has excellent hang-time, was solid in his directional kicks, and has reliable hands as a holder.

Kick Returner:  After some costly fumbles on kick-off returns, WR Andre Caldwell was replaced with rookie RB Bernard Scott mid-season.  Scott provided the number one need of ball security, but also proved to be an explosive returner.  His opening kick-off return for a touchdown set the tone in last year’s win at Pittsburgh, and he had many other returns that gave the offense good field position, including in the playoff loss to the Jets.

The team is in good hands with Scott, but a second return man will have to be found.

Punt Returner:  After years of fair-catches and 2 or 3 yard returns, WR Quan Cosby emerged in 2010 as a dangerous returner for the team. Although he did not return any for scores, he had some excellent run-backs that shifted field position and helped the offense.

Unlike Scott, however, Cosby will have to hold off a push from numerous qualified candidates to keep his job. Adam Jones has experience as an electrifying returner for the Titans and Cowboys, and Cosby’s former college teammate, rookie Jordan Shipley had 2 touchdowns on punt returns as a collegian.

No matter who wins the job, fans should expect much better than 2 or 3 yard averages from this group.

The “teams” are superbly coached by taskmaster Darrin Simmons.  The detail-oriented coach always does a superb job preparing his charges.

Overall Position Group Grade: B-

Question marks at kicker and long-snapper keep this grade from being higher. The returners should have a good year, and Huber should get better in his second year in the league.

What do you think? 

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