The Cincinnati Bengals may be giving a hint as to who’s winning their kicking battle.
When the team first spent a fifth-round pick on Memphis kicker Jake Elliott in this year’s NFL Draft, everyone assumed he was the guy going forward. Even with a veteran challenger in Randy Bullock, the Bengals rarely cut fifth-round picks, let alone the first drafted kicker in the Marvin Lewis era...right?
No so fast. Thanks to Elliott struggling in practice for the past month, this is now a battle very much up for grabs, if not one that Elliott is actually trailing in. While Elliott is a perfect 3-of-3 in the preseason, all of his kicks have been fairly short attempts that he should convert just to stay alive in this battle.
In the preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Elliott got just one field-goal attempt, a 45-yarder which he converted. However, Bullock converted attempts of 54 and 49 yards, the last of which was to put the game on ice and give the Bengals a two-score lead with 2:58 remaining.
Then in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Elliott converted a 45-yard attempt to cut the the lead to 10-6. His next attempt didn’t come until the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, as his 39-yard attempt cut the lead to 30-12.
As for Bullock, he converted a 47-yarder to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead on the game’s first possession. He later hit a 26-yarder to end the first half and cut the Chiefs’ lead to 16-6.
The Bengals clearly aren't putting Elliott into high-pressure situations, nor are they giving him many long attempts. Those are mostly going to Bullock, who should be hitting those anyways. The Bengals need to see what Elliott can do with those so he can showcase his talent and composure.
That is, unless the Bengals are actually trying to hide Elliott, hoping to stash him on the practice squad later down the line. The public has seen nothing from Elliott to think he’s ready to be an NFL team’s primary kicker, and he hasn’t shown much promise in practice either.
Perhaps the Bengals realize it’s gotten to the point that they can actually waive Elliott during final cuts and sneak him onto the practice squad. Sure, the Bengals spent a fifth-round pick on Elliott, but he’s done very little to warrant another team claiming him off waivers.
And the Bengals are notorious for relying far too heavily on veterans they’re familiar with versus inexperienced rookies. Bullock may have blew his chance to secure his job in Houston last year, but the coaches probably still prefer him over a green rookie.
Regardless of what the Bengals are doing, one thing is clear: Bullock is the better option at kicker right now, and it’s hard to see that changing dramatically over the next two weeks.