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Friday, January 31, 2014
Bengals position outlook: Specialists

By Coley Harvey

It's the Friday before the Super Bowl and we have now reached the end of our daily position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season.

We looked at quarterbacksrunning backsreceivers, tight endsoffensive tacklesguards/centersdefensive tacklesdefensive endslinebackerscornerbacks and safeties. Let's close with:

SPECIALISTS

Since we already covered the performance of returners like Brandon Tate and Adam Jones in posts about their primary positions, only kickers, punters and long-snappers are covered in this review.

2014 free agents: Zoltan Mesko.

The good: There were several good memories from 2013 for Cincinnati's specialists. Chief among them were kicker Mike Nugent's game-winning field goals, and the 70-yard-plus punts that Kevin Huber blasted on occasion during the year. Nugent had only 22 field goal attempts, which ranked as the second-lowest single-season mark in his Bengals career. It also was the second-lowest of his overall career if you exclude the six combined games he appeared in with the Buccaneers and Cardinals in 2009. He only attempted eight field goals that season. He also only appeared in one game in 2008 while with the Jets.

The bad: Huber's season-ending injuries he suffered from a vicious blindside hit at Pittsburgh in Week 15 were the ugliest moment of the year for the specialist crew, if not the entire team. The play came on the tail end of a first quarter that was filled with special-teams miscues, including a botched snap from Clark Harris that sailed on Huber. After bobbling the wind-driven snap, Huber was lucky to get tackled at the Bengals' 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored. There were other miscues, like Nugent's extra-point miss in Week 3, replacement punter Shawn Powell's 10-yard shank that sailed into the second row of stadium seats during the regular-season finale, and Huber's difficulty navigating the swirling winds at Baltimore in Week 10. He had his worst punting average that day, with his six punts traveling 37.2 yards.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Huber ($2.3 million), Nugent ($1.4 million), Harris ($760,000). Absolutely nothing changes for the Bengals next season. While they have kickers signed to futures contracts that will go into effect Monday, they will be sticking with the same specialist tandem when training camp begins. The only real change is that Mesko will be a free agent again. After Powell's shank, Mesko was brought in as the replacement punter entering the playoffs. With Huber expected to be at full health during the offseason, Cincinnati will have no need for Mesko on the roster. It will be interesting to see how the Bengals go through next offseason, as Nugent will be coming off his 10th season and will be at the end of another contract. Huber and Harris are signed through 2017.

Draft priority: Very low. Teams don't normally draft long-snappers, kickers or punters unless they have a very real need. The Bengals don't have a need at any of those positions and will use their draft picks to shore up other areas.