Monday, September 03, 2001

Rookie punter wins job

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals will open the season with rookie Nick Harris as their punter after waiving Daniel Pope, who set a franchise record with 94 punts in 2000.

        “The Bengals saw an opportunity to get a fourth-round draft pick without paying him a signing bonus, and they like the kid,” Pope said Sunday. “I saw this coming.”

        “He has a chance to be a top, top echelon NFL punter,” coach Dick LeBeau said of Harris. “We have scouted this guy extensively.”

        Harris, a fourth-round draft pick by Denver from the University of California, was claimed off waivers Wednesday. Harris punted four times for a 40.5-yard average against Indianapolis.

        Harris, who's 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, closed out his collegiate career with NCAA records in total punts (322) and punt yardage (13,621). He averaged 42.3 yards a kick in college and punted seven times for the Broncos in preseason for an average of 37.3 yards and three punts inside the 20-yard line.

        Kicker Neil Rackers will miss Pope, who was his holder and booster. The introverted Rackers was 12-for-21 on field-goal attempts as a rookie, and the outgoing Pope helped him through the rough times.

        Harris, quarterback Scott Mitchell and wide receiver Danny Farmer are the top three holders.

        “I just have to teach him what I'm used to and go from there,” Rackers said of Harris, who held in college. “(With Pope), everything was so smooth. Once the ball hit the hands, it was down. It was easy for me to look at, easy to see. I knew where it was sitting.”

        Harris and Rackers left the Paul Brown Stadium locker room together after Sunday morning's practicing, apparently to get lunch and talk kicking.

        Before leaving, Harris said, “I can hold. I've been through four months of real tough scrutiny in Denver. There's no one here competing with me, so it's all about kicking the ball far and high.”


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