Coming into the 2017 offseason, there were many positions the Cincinnati Bengals were looking to address. One of the biggest issues in their six-win season of 2016 was the inability to find consistency from their place kicker.
Randy Bullock was brought in to relieve Mike Nugent for the final three games of the season and after a 5-for-6 showing last year, the team re-signed him in January as a veteran option for the open job. They also added rookie Jake Elliott in the fifth round in this year’s draft and both have been duking it out in a very entertaining summer battle for the title of the Bengals’ 2017 kicker.
Both Bullock and Elliott have been perfect on all of their opportunities in the preseason, making it difficult for special teams coach Darrin Simmons to determine a current front-runner.
“There’s not much difference,” Simmons said via Bengals.com. “Both guys are going to be kicking in this league this year. Whoever it is. I feel very confident about that. They’ve both done well. They’ve put their best stuff on tape, so I think both guys are going to be kicking this year. We’re going to get a good guy and we’ll let a good guy go. That’s the hard part.”
Simmons is looking for a number of aspects out of the winner of the competition. Obviously, accuracy is one of them and both have showed that facet in the first two preseason games. Also, the ability to nail long field goal opportunities, hitting solid kickoffs, as well as having composure and converting in tough weather are all on Simmons’ checklist.
“I understand there’s a competition and I’ve told them I need to see leg strength,” Simmons said. “And both of them are displaying that.”
With Bullock and Elliott, there are obvious pros and cons as the final decision looms. As for the knocks against Bullock, many teams have not only passed him over for a long-term job recently, but his lone missed kick with the Bengals last year, one that would have beaten the Texans on Christmas Eve, also still sticks in fans’ craws. Though, in reality it helped the Bengals’ draft positioning in an already dead season.
As with almost any rookie, the concern of translating college production to the pros is always a risk. And, while he kicked in some harsh elements while at Memphis, the 2017 Bengals kicker will have some games in rough elements at Paul Brown Stadium, as well as the away games within the division and elsewhere.
Still, Simmons likes what he has seen in a number of different aspects from the newbie and the veteran.
“He’s (Elliott) really gotten the ball up in the air and he’s showed he can get it down the field. The thing about him is with the consistency in the hits,” Simmons said. ”Randy has also hit the ball really well. What matters is the depth of the kickoff.”
On one hand, investing a fifth-round pick on a kicker should point to the team sticking with the rookie. However, Marvin Lewis and his staff have shown a penchant for preferring veteran steadiness over the possible ups and downs from a younger player. So, the final two preseason games will have a huge impact on who ends up landing on the Bengals’ final roster.
Regardless of who wins the position battle this summer, we, like Simmons, believe both Elliott and Bullock will be employed this season and kicking on Sundays.