BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, KY. _ Maybe the only pattern the Bengals' receivers followed last Friday night in Atlanta was this one: Inexperienced wideouts need time to feel their way around NFL route running.
So Bengals quarterback Akili Smith and all his four NFL starts summoned rookie receiver Peter Warrick after practice for some extra work earlier this week here at Georgetown College.
"C'mon 80," said Smith, calling the first-round pick by his uniform number. "You and me."
Smith and the coaches want Warrick and the other young receivers to get more precise depth on their routes. So Warrick ran about 10 yards downfield, made a quick turn around receivers coach Steve Mooshagian, and caught Smith's pass. He did that a few times and reported, "Akili can (take control)."
"That's what leaders do," Smith said. "What happened against Atlanta was like what happened last year. I might have had a guy open, but I missed him, or I might have got hit, or no one got open. Something broke down. I want to get on the same page with these guys. You have to remember it was Pete's first time playing flanker and he did OK. Let's work on it. We need guys to step up."
They need enough guys to step up that Mooshagian has held more individual meetings this week with his players. He warned them the organization will start scouring the waiver wire for veterans if play isn't improved. One name popped up today when the Patriots released seven-year man Vincent Brisby, a 6-3, 195-pounder with 217 catches and 14 touchdowns in a career he's built mainly on his slender speed.
The Pats shopped Brisby, 29, to the Bengals after Darnay Scott's season-ending broken leg, but the play of their receivers in the preseaon opener cooled them. Yet the 31-16 loss to Atlanta last Friday has the club concerned about play at the split end spot.
James Hundon starts there again Saturday night against the Bears, but head coach Bruce Coslet says they are currently looking at using a committee of Hundon, rookie Ron Dugans and second-year man Damon Griffin at that spot. Free-agent rookies Marvin Chalmers and LaVell Boyd are also getting looks. But if the Bengals don't get more from their veterans, they could be looking at the Brisbys of the world for the fifth and final spot after Warrick, Dugans, Yeast and Hundon/Griffin.
"They understand Friday night wasn't acceptable to us as coaches," Mooshagian said. "They know it's not acceptable as players and they've responded. They were humble and they've come back this week intense and focused. Akili and I have had some heart-to-heart talks and it's going to get better."
Coslet says he's got talent and "hard-working," guys. He also knows he's got 43 NFL catches on the roster: "They're just trying to remember the plays. That's what happens when you've got a whole bunch of new young guys. We have to do a better job of coaching to get them to understand it. It will happen. We have the talent there."
No one doubts Warrick's game-breaking talent. Now he's trying to fine-tune it in the world of the NFL. Which means he's got to start getting behind linebackers instead of bobbing and weaving in front of them. Which is why Smith was working with Warrick coming around the hole.
"If I go behind (the linebacker), he loses vision of me," Warrick said.
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"He doesn't know whether I'm coming or going and you've got figure I would get the edge on that," Warrick said.
Mooshagian is trying to get Warrick to set his own depth and not the defender. No more will linebackers let him run down to the third car and cut over to the park bench.
"Sometimes he lets the linebacker dicate his depth," Mooshagian said. "If the linebacker is at 12 yards and we've got a 14-yard pattern and he sees the guy at 12, he's so good at coming back that he tries to beat him back instead of going around him and he ends up getting only eight (yards). He doesn't quite understand the progressions when he's Nos. one, two or three (option). It takes patience. He can't rush everything. I think at Florida State it was like, 'No. 9, you go get open and we'll throw it to you.' But he works at it and he'll be there quickly."
Warrick's already working on it. Like his fellow flashy, gold-clad Flordia State product Deion Sanders, there is work ethic underneath the glitz. Remember how Sanders worked out after a Reds' game? Warrick is usually the last receiver off the practice field.
"I want to get better," Warrick said. "I'll do what I have to do."
Smith is with him. On their 31-yard completion against the Falcons, it looked like Smith underthrew him. But Smith was actually waiting for Warrick to turn into a hole instead of streaking straight down the field.
"We're just looking to get on the same page," Warrick said.
Craig Yeast, the second-year speedster, is a whiskered veteran on this crew with three NFL catches. He knows it will take some time.
"We're young," Yeast said. "I'm still learning. Even a four-year guy like James Hundon is learning. (Smith) knows he's the quarterback. He's the leader of the team. We've got seven receivers and we go out early with Akili and work on our timing. We know what we're capable of. It's just a matter of running the right routes, getting the right depth and getting in the holes. That's all."