Saturday, May 04, 2002

Rackers faces winds of change

Kicker begins fight for job in minicamp

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The shoe is on the other foot for Bengals kicker Neil Rackers.

        Two years ago, he was the rookie, a sixth-round draft pick who was going to solidify the Bengals' kicking game. Doug Pelfrey was the veteran who said the drafted rookie always has the advantage.

        “Mike Brown doesn't waste draft picks,” Pelfrey told Rackers.

        Friday night, when he reported to Paul Brown Stadium for the mandatory team meeting that opens the three-day minicamp, Rackers was the veteran staring at a kicking competition with a drafted rookie.

        Travis Dorsch, the Bengals' fourth-round draft pick from Purdue, arrived a few minutes later in a chauffeured van with some of the team's other draft choices. But he is clearly in the driver's seat in the kicking competition, and Rackers said he knew it.

        “Mike Brown doesn't waste draft picks,” Rackers repeated. He declined to discuss whether he has asked or will ask the Bengals to release him so he can try to win a job with another team.

        “It's up to them (who wins the job), but I have to worry about me,” Rackers said. “I'm here to get better. I know I'm going to be kicking. If it's here, good. If it's not, fine. I feel like if you put me someplace — I feel like there are some variables here that aren't in my favor that might be in my favor some other places.”

        Rackers was 17-for-28 on field goal attempts last season, but it was a missed extra point at the end of regulation against the Steelers that sent the game into overtime that appeared to permanently scar the team's shaky faith in him. Never mind he came back and won the game with a 31-yard field goal in overtime, or that he made all three field goal attempts the next week in a victory at Tennessee.

        “If I make all my field goals and they don't want me here, there's nothing I can do about it,” he said. “I feel like some people have their minds made up that I'm not going to be here, and some people don't. So, it's like a jury — let's see who you can sway.”

        Rackers has been thinking a lot about juries lately. But, on Friday, just hours before driving to the stadium, he avoided a June 10 trial date when a mediation session resulted in Kenton County prosecutors recommending that a fourth-degree assault charge against Rackers be dropped.

        It stemmed from a Dec. 9 fight in a Covington restaurant between Rackers and a Colerain Township man, Brian Stoehr. Rackers was accused of pushing Stoehr into a restroom wall at Willie's Sports Cafe. Rackers said Stoehr repeatedly had taunted him, his wife and mother while they were dining.

        “It's a huge weight off my back,” Rackers said of the case's impending resolution. “It killed my wife and me. But we learned something early in life that some people don't learn until later — if you're having problems somewhere, either call 911 and let them know so it's on the record that someone is harassing you very, very, very forcefully, or just leave. Maybe it was bad judgment on my part, maybe it wasn't. I felt like I used the best judgment I could.”

        Rackers and Stoehr met with mediator Mark Schwartz. After they talked, Stoehr said the charge against Rackers should be dropped. Ken Easterling, chief prosecutor in the Kenton County Attorney Office, then agreed to ask Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus to dismiss it.

        “It definitely helps,” Rackers said. “Now I just have to kick the ball through the hoop.”

        The incident wasn't the first time Rackers and his wife, Rachel, had encountered problems while out in public. Nor has it been the last.

        “It's a little disappointing,” he said. “Originally, I was drafted here, and I was extremely excited about being here. Loved being in Cincinnati. Loved working with (Bengals special teams coach) Al Roberts. Wanted to build a family here. Planned on being here for a long time. So we moved here.

        “In hindsight, that might not have been — things have not gone well, not being able to go out. It would have been nice to be back in St. Louis in the offseason, where nobody knows who I am (and) nobody cares.”

        Rackers played college ball at Illinois, and he faced Dorsch twice as a Big Ten rival.

        There will be no animosity.

        “That's an unwritten rule about kickers,” Rackers said. “Not everybody follows it. But I learned from two of the best in Richie Cunningham and Doug Pelfrey what the best way to handle a situation like this is.”


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