Pre-Game Assessment, and Notes

The first time out for coach Darrin Simmons and his special teams unit really couldn't have gone much worse than it did last week in the preseason opener against the New York Jets. <br><br> Neither Nick Harris nor Travis Dorsch punted well, averaging 38.1 yards on seven combined punts. Those in front of them didn't block well or cover kicks well, and Harris dropped not one but two snaps on placement attempts by kicker Neil Rackers.

But it's a starting point going into tonight's game against the Detroit Lions.

"Guys have got to learn to understand what their roles on this team can be," said Simmons. "If they're backups, they better be good in the kicking game or it's going to be tough for them to make it. We owe that to the team. We've got to hold up our end of the bargain and pulling our weight, and that means controlling field position. We didn't get that done the other day."

By contrast, Detroit's kicking game is one of the best in the NFL with punter John Jett and kicker Jason Hanson. Hanson is the Lions' all-time leading scorer and only twice in his previous 11 seasons has he failed to score at least 93 points. Jett was second in the NFC last season in net average at 38 yards-per-kick and had 29 punts inside the 20-yard line last season, the sixth-best total in the NFL.

"You look at the special teams as a whole, good or bad," said Dorsch. "As specialists, we like to shoulder that responsibility. If we're good, the others can feed off of that energy and then go out and do their jobs better."

POSITION BATTLES TO WATCH – Although the NFL's first official cut-down date isn't until Aug. 26, tonight's game with the Lions will likely be the last for several players. The Bengals have one more week left of training camp at Georgetown College and need to get closer looks at players in several positions.

The safety spot is still the most unpredictable of the groups. Six players remain vying for four, maybe five, roster spots. Marquand Manuel and Mark Roman are the starters at strong and free safety, but the depth chart still holds little real value at this point.

Who will be the backups on the offensive line is still up for grabs. The Bengals have tried Scott Rehberg, Scott Kooistra, Victor Leyva, Alex Sulfsted and Belton Johnson at the tackle positions in an attempt to find out who will best fill the reserve spots. Helping Rehberg, Leyva and Sulfsted is that they are also able to play inside at guard.

The third running back spot will go down to the wire, with Ray Jackson and Rudi Johnson battling each other. Like a lot of roster spots, who plays best on special teams will have the upper hand.

GAME-TIME DECISION – Whether or not quarterback Carson Palmer makes his Paul Brown Stadium debut tonight against Detroit will be a game-time decision. Palmer's slightly torn plantar fascia on his right foot caused him to sit out Thursday's two practices. A statement released by the club said that his treatment was on schedule to have him play but that a further evaluation would be made today.

Three players are definitely out for tonight: tight end Matt Schobel (hamstring), defensive lineman Ron Smith (elbow) and linebacker Tito Rodriguez (knee). Others who will be game-time decisions are cornerbacks Jeff Burris (heel) and Artrell Hawkins (knee), offensive lineman Matt O'Dwyer (foot) and wide receiver Peter Warrick (ankle).

BLACKOUT EFFECTS – Due to the power outage that affected much of the Northeast on Thursday, including the financial hubs in New York City, the Bengals are unsure whether or not they will be able to accept credit cards for those wishing to buy walkup tickets to tonight's game. There will be ATM machines available on the Paul Brown Stadium plaza level by the ticket windows but fans should be ready to pay with cash for their tickets.

Kevin Goheen

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