Out of rough NFL hold, Bentley still kicking

August 09, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Here's perhaps the most fascinating entry on place-kicker Scott Bentley's NFL resume, which includes nearly twice as many teams (five) as field-goal attempts (three):

Signed by Tampa Bay, April 7, 1999.

Waived by Tampa Bay, April 19, 1999.

What did Bentley do, sabotage the playbook? Threaten Tony Dungy? Defect to NFL Europe?

None of the above.

Bentley had moved his belongings to Tampa with the understanding that he would compete with two other kickers for the starting job.

But on April 17, the Buccaneers drafted Kansas State's Martin Gramatica in the third round, the earliest selection of a kicker since 1993.

"I was shocked beyond belief," Bentley said.

Two days later, he asked for his release. One day after that, he signed with the Ravens. And sometime in the next month, he is likely to be out of work again.

Bentley, 25, once was described as "possibly the best kicker in the history of high school football." He made the cover of Sports Illustrated's college football preview issue as a freshman. And he became the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading scorer at Florida State.

Why isn't he an established NFL kicker?

From Arizona to Denver, Atlanta to Tampa Bay to Baltimore, his search continues for a place in the NFL universe and a chance to end life as a journeyman.

"You see quarterbacks bounce around the league," Ravens special teams coach Russ Purnell said. "It happens to kickers, too."

Bentley impressed Purnell in late March at a camp run by kicking guru Ray Pelfrey in Reno, Nev. The camp serves as a scouting combine for kickers, with special teams coaches gathering for an unofficial convention.

After Tampa Bay drafted Gramatica, Purnell contacted Joe Marciano, his counterpart with the Bucs. Marciano said Bentley would be waived, and Purnell alerted the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, Ozzie Newsome.

The Ravens claimed Bentley, but it is doubtful he will pose a serious threat to 10-year veteran Matt Stover, the 11th-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history.

Yet, even as another release seems inevitable, Bentley remains surprisingly upbeat for a player who once seemed destined for greatness, especially after he ended his freshman season by kicking the field goal that won the 1994 Orange Bowl and gave Florida State its first national championship.

"It might seem tough, but being a young kicker, it's not that tough," said Bentley, who signed with Arizona as a rookie free agent after no team drafted him, but served only as an extra leg in camp.

"I understand that after you're in college and you come to the pro level, you've got a clean slate. You've got to re-prove yourself to every team possible. Established veterans, it's going to be really hard to beat them out.

"Bouncing around doesn't affect me in a negative way at all. You've just got to keep going, keep doing positive things, try not to get down about the process."

Bentley did his first positive thing Friday night, narrowly defeating Stover in a field-goal kicking contest at halftime of the team's intrasquad scrimmage.

Of course, the more significant tests will come in the Ravens' four preseason games, beginning Thursday in Philadelphia.

"I know I've got my work cut out. I know that Scott is a solid kicker," Stover said. "He's good enough to be on a team somewhere. It comes down to breaks, who knows you, all that stuff."

Bentley, a Colorado native, had one big NFL moment, scoring 10 of Denver's 34 points in a 1997 Monday night victory over New England -- a clutch performance by a hometown kid in a battle of unbeatens.

But how did the Broncos reward him?

By releasing him after Jason Elam returned one week later.

Bentley signed later that season with Atlanta, but did not attempt a field goal for the Falcons and was not re-signed. He spent six days on Denver's practice squad last season, but that was the extent of his 1998 employment.

"Some years, it's probably going to be like that," Bentley said. "I was able to work, manage my time, kick and stay in shape. I kept getting workouts and having good workouts for people. It probably keeps a good light in their minds."

He holds a bachelor's degree in business from FSU, but is reluctant to set a timetable for his future career in real estate. He maintains his youthful optimism, joking about his plight, figuring everything will work out.

Just last season, Wade Richey was cut by Seattle at the end of training camp, then signed with San Francisco and won three games with field goals. Doug Brien, the kicker Richey replaced, landed with New Orleans.

"Absolutely, Scott has the ability to kick in this league, whether it's for the Baltimore Ravens or another team," Purnell said. "Hopefully the right situation for him will occur."

Hopefully.

For now, Bentley is a long way from Orange Bowl glory, a long way from the cover of SI.

"It's not the prettiest," he said of his career. "Sometimes people make it this way, sometimes they don't. But I'll keep plugging away at it.

"I firmly believe I can be a full-time kicker in this league."

Ravens camp

When: Through Aug. 26

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Directions from Baltimore: Take Interstate 695 to Exit 19 to I-795 north to its end. Follow signs to Westminster via Route 140 west to Route 31 south. At blinking yellow light, turn left (Route 31). At first traffic light, turn left on Main Street. Proceed up the hill. The parking entrance is on the left.

Information: 410-261-FANS

Pub Date: 8/09/99

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