Next kicker up: Bengals' Randy Bullock must prove himself quickly

CINCINNATI -- Mike Nugent's locker was empty on Wednesday morning.

The locker, which had been sandwiched between punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris, hasn't been reassigned yet. New kicker Randy Bullock instead got the empty locker next to Bengals cornerback Adam Jones.

It was an odd choice, but then, this has been an odd season for the Cincinnati Bengals, who stuck with Nugent long after many teams would have run out of patience. Nugent missed six PATs, six field goals and was booed at home.

It was a difficult situation for Nugent, an Ohio native who once dreamed of playing for the Bengals. He had been the team's kicker since 2010 and was well liked around the locker room.

“Mike has become one of my really good friends," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "It’s sad to see that he’s not here anymore. He did so much for this team and made some really big kicks since I’ve been here. He helped us win a lot of games. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to an end, but it’s part of the business, like it or not.”

But while the Bengals stood by Nugent for a while, the final straw appeared to be a missed field goal against the Browns last week. He was released two days later.

"We just made a decision to move forward," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “ ... It’s a hard decision to make, as we said, obviously, because Mike had been pretty consistent in practice. But for whatever reason, in the game it just hasn’t worked that way — like missing the field goal before halftime last week. It was one that, obviously, we know he should make.”

Lewis didn't say whether the Bengals would have made the move if the Steelers had not waived Bullock this week. The available group of kickers at this point in the season was a thin one, and earlier in the season Lewis indicated he'd rather work through Nugent's struggles than take his chances on another kicker's unknown struggles.

The Bengals tried out a group of kickers, including Bullock, around midseason, but ultimately did not sign any of them. Outside of a one-game stint with the Steelers, Bullock has essentially been at home waiting for a phone call.

"It went really well," Bullock said of his workout. "I felt like I stood out, and I was hoping at some point I would get an opportunity. It took a little longer than I expected, but morning came, I'm here now and I'm really excited."

Now the Bengals are essentially auditioning Bullock, who likely won't be awarded the same patience that Nugent received. He has three games to prove himself as a viable option for next season.

"In this league, you are always building a resume for yourself, and that's the approach I took and I'm excited for what it's brought me," Bullock said. "I think any game is an audition, so I'm thankful for the opportunity. I've had a couple fill-in positions. I'm here to perform at a high level, help this team win and hopefully stick."

What did the Bengals tell Bullock when he signed?

"I need to come in here and make my kicks," Bullock said. "That's my job description, and that's what I plan on doing."