PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 09: Nate Whitaker #39 of the Stanford Cardinal kicks a field goal to beat the USC Trojans 37-35 at Stanford Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
While the Cincinnati Bengals have two place kickers signed to contracts for the 2011 (hope-to-god-it-happens) season, it doesn't mean that the team is resting on either Mike Nugent or Clint Stitser. According to Pro Football Talk's draft visits and workout tracker, the Bengals have scheduled a private workout with Stanford place kicker Nate Whitaker.
This shouldn't be too surprising.
Aside from the fact that Mike Nugent's 78.9% field goal conversion is the lowest since Neil Rackers' 60.7% conversion in 2001, he's coming off a major knee injury during an onside kick against the Indianapolis Colts. Who knows how his knee will respond after he's fully rehabilitated. Clint Stitser converted seven of eight field goals, but missed two PATs with an average kickoff just over a yard shy of the ten-yard line. The Bengals are hardly set to promote any place kicker competition and if there's options to improve the position, they have to at least investigate those options.
Stanford's Whitaker ranked as the 17th-best kicking prospect according to ESPN's DraftTracker, converted 17 of 19 kicks during his final year. He didn't attempt any 50-yarders and converted four of five field goals from the 40-yard line and beyond. We've heard there's some interest in Nebraska's Alex Henery, who is listed as the top place kicker in this year's NFL Draft.
And before we start debating whether the Bengals need to draft a place kicker, just keep in mind the difference in the NFL often rests on the shoulders of a confident leg late in the game, field position during kickoffs (like kicking off into the endzone, even though they've moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line) and a dependable kicker that makes those second and third quarter field goals people dismiss until they lose the game.