Cincinnati Bengals: Incumbent Bullock doesn’t take job for granted

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 29: Randy Bullock #4 of the Cincinnati Bengals kicks a field goal against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 29: Randy Bullock #4 of the Cincinnati Bengals kicks a field goal against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis keeps insisting there is no competition for the place-kicker job, but incumbent Randy Bullock doesn’t take his position for granted.

Last year, he beat out 2017 fifth-round draft pick Jake Elliott for the spot, and Bullock is slated to return, barring injury or unless something drastically changes with Jonathan Brown.

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Brown, a former University of Louisville soccer player competing for an NFL job since 2016, showed off his powerful leg with a 55-yard field goal against Dallas on Saturday – just his second game kicking, ever. However, he hasn’t proven consistent enough in practice to gain the confidence of the team, and Brown is running out of time to do so.

The Bengals play their third of four preseason games Sunday at Buffalo.

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“I don’t think anything has been given to me,” Bullock said. “It’s still a competition. We keep stats on everything we do every day at practice, and I feel like I’ve had a really strong training camp, just like last year. It’s just staying consistent more than anything.”

Bullock has the advantage of experience after six seasons in the league, including 18 games for the Bengals since they claimed him off waivers from Pittsburgh in late 2016.

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And, he finally seems to have proven himself here.

After playing the last three games for the Bengals in 2016, he watched the team take Elliott as the first kicker off the board in the 2017 draft and it took consistency through the offseason, training camp and preseason to beat out Elliott for the job last year. Elliott was placed on the practice squad and eventually picked up by the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles in Week 2.

Given limited opportunities by a struggling offense, Bullock went 18 of 20 (90 percent) on field goals and was 31 of 33 on PATs.

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This year, Brown is the only other kicker on the roster, and despite this being his third training camp with the Bengals, it’s the first one he actually has gotten a chance to compete.

The 25-year-old earned a contract from an impressive tryout during rookie camp in May 2016 but was hindered by injuries and eventually waived that August. Last year, he was waived less than a week into camp with Bullock and Elliott locked in a tight competition for the job, but Brown signed a Futures Contract with the Bengals in January and finally received an opportunity to show how far his mechanics have come this preseason.

In two preseason games, he is 2-for-2 on field goals and on extra points, but Lewis indicated what he’s seen in practice weighs more heavily on his decision.

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“It’s the fully body of work, and that’s important,” Lewis said. “The time that (special teams coach) Darrin (Simmons) spends with the guys, even outside of my eyes, is important. … It’s the confidence we have. When we line up to kick a field goal, I expect to walk away with three points. That’s not a ‘maybe’ or ‘maybe not’ proposition.”

Lewis gave Brown credit for making the 55-yarder at Dallas, but said at this point he’s still more of a project.

The potential is there, but the Bengals don’t see a need to test out an inexperienced kicker in games that count when they already have one that has proven he can do the job. Lewis also said he doesn’t see the team keeping a kicker on the practice squad like last year.

“Jon did a great job,” Lewis said. “It’s really the essence of what, as I told our team, this is all about. This is a guy who’s been here in this building for three years, and the first time he ever kicked in a game was two weeks ago against the Chicago Bears. Darrin has done an incredible job to get him to be able to go into a game and do that.”

Brown said he knows his chances are slim with the Bengals this year, but hopes if his opportunity doesn’t come in Cincinnati, he gets a shot elsewhere.

There are plenty of teams looking for kickers and it could take just one game to gain someone’s attention.

“I know how the business goes,” Brown said. “It’s a business decision at the end of the day. … I don’t really look at it as a competition or anything like that yet. I’m just getting better and better as the days go by and I’m just trying to perfect my craft.

“You step out there the first time and nobody knows what to expect out of you. But that’s why they kept bringing me back, just for me to work on it and then now I’m getting a chance to try to translate what we work on in practice into games. At the end of the day your name goes around, they hear what you can do and see you have the talent but it’s, ‘OK, can he do it in the games?’ In the two games, I feel like I’ve proven myself, and hopefully I can keep proving myself in these next two games.”


SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Bills, 4 p.m., Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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