Now that Peter Warrick is signed 40 days before training camp, the Bengals' coaches have 40 nights to dream up the Os to go along with their X. Warrick's fellow Florida State wide receiver Ron Dugans can see the writing on the wall.
Or at least in the Bengals' playbook.
"Go ahead and just open it up," says Dugans as he and the rest of Bengaldom envisions a three-receiver set. "Nothing wrong with it. If the coach throws it at us, we can handle it. Let us go with it. We'll try anything to win."
Offensive coordinator Ken Anderson admires the enthusiasm, but he'll also shake his head and mutter, "Rookies."
Even with the presence of an All-World speedster in Darnay Scott, an All-Everything in Warrick, an All-American in Craig Yeast and an All-ACC guy in Dugans, Anderson isn't all consumed by the concept of three wide receivers.
"We've got to wait and see what we've got," Anderson said. "What about the new stadium? What if it's going to be windy? What if the wind is blowing through the place in December and it's tough to throw? That's just one thing you have to look at, and there's a bunch of other things to consider."
Anderson notes the Vikings' spread offense plays indoors, as does the Rams' downfield passing game that exploded uptown in a Super Bowl championship. But Anderson also knows the three-receiver set probably isn't going to get iced by Paul Brown Stadium, either, given that Buffalo's Jim Kelly and his K Gun thrived in Ice Station Zebra back in the day.
Anderson isn't throwing cold water on the three-receiver set, it's just that "we're not going to line up for the first play of training camp in it." Of course, they may do more of it on first down instead of just saving it for third-and-long.
Everyone wants to look at the Rams and, believe it, they are watching the Warner Brothers at Spinney Field. Even before the Bengals drafted Dugans in the third round, a paper was circulated in the draft room that compared Scott-Warrick-Yeast to Isaac Bruce-Torry Holt-Az Hakim. Bruce and Scott have virtually the same experience and speed. Warrick and Holt are top 10 picks a year apart. Yeast and Hakim are small, quick and fourth-rounders a year apart.
"But the Rams don't just go three wides," Anderson said. "They do everything. They go two backs. They go two tight ends. They mix it up. You can't call the Rams a three-wide team. They adjusted. They did more at the end than they did at the beginning. But they do it all."
There are those in the NFL who think what made the Rams this past season was not the three wides, but the accurate efficiency of quarterback Kurt Warner honed in the Arena League, Europe and some NFL training camps. Followed right behind by the magnificent versatility of running back Marshall Faulk.
What has Anderson worried about a steady diet of three wides is what he sees as the inexperience of the key players. Warrick and Dugans are rookies. Yeast is virtually a rookie after limping much of his freshman season. And quarterback Akili Smith, the Bengals' Warner?
"To call him a second-year player is a stretch," Anderson said. "The workouts these guys are at now? He couldn't do that last year (because of NCAA rules). Then he missed the first 27 practices of camp. He didn't start taking snaps as a starter until Cleveland week. He practiced four weeks and got hurt. So he's had a month of practice. To say that he's a veteran, I would argue that point."
Anderson is afraid of overloading the kids with too much. He's already got Warrick and Dugans learning two spots, the X and the slot. And if running back Corey Dillon holds out, Anderson isn't so sure the three-receiver set is the answer because how can three rookies carry the offense?
But there is lobbying. Dugans reminds people he played the slot his sophomore season, was moved to the outside as a junior, but ended that year in the slot and going off in a big game against Tennessee for the national title.
"There was a young kid who hurt his hand and I think they wanted my experience in a big game," Dugans said. "You've got to be able to read defenses and be tough in the slot and I'm not afraid of going over the middle."
The 5-7 Yeast, the most prolific pass catcher in SEC history, just wants to get on the field after being hobbled by the high ankle sprain as a freshman. He played some slot at Kentucky and he looks at Hakim and figures, "I know I can do some great things in this league. It's a matter of me proving it. I think they had a lot of expectations for me last year and when I got hurt, I think they lost some confidence in me. I lost some in myself, but I got it back when I was able to play again."
Anderson knows the talent is here, but it's also a matter of what the defenses are going to do. He worked out of plenty of three-receiver sets during his 16 seasons in stripes, the most fruitful days coming when Steve Kreider worked the middle for stars like Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth, Eddie Brown and Tim McGee from 1979-86.
"But were you going to take the ball out of someone like (running back) Pete Johnson's hands on first down?" Anderson asked. "It depends. Down. Distance. It's matchups. OK, so you've got three guys that are going to be hard to cover. But what if that's a bad matchup for our left tackle and he's by himself against their big pass rusher? What if we match up better with two backs and two tight ends? What if we want to keep their (pass defense) off the field?"
There are supposed to be more "ifs," than "definites," in June. Dugans says, "We're rookies, but if we show up in training camp and are able to do it against our veterans, we should be able to do it in the preseason and regular season."
One can just see Anderson shaking his head.
Translated into the Xs and Os of the Bengals' offense, that phrase appears to be, "You better be able to do it all."