8-4-03, 10:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN. Ky. _ Marvin Lewis watched his prized rookie wide receiver lope through his first training camp practice Monday afternoon at Georgetown College and decided, "It looked like he's been here with us."
Which may set training methods back a few multigrains because Kelley Washington spent his week-long holdout back in Cincinnati running the stadium stairs at UC's Nippert Stadium and playing catch with some guys who were just running around the field throwing a football. Now on Sunday, he figures to strap it up against the Jets in New Jersey in the Bengals' pre-season opener.
"One guy had a pretty good arm and said he played a little bit in college," Washington said of his workout partners. "I asked a couple of them to come back the next day, and they did. I actually feel pretty good."
Monday's workout ended what may have been the most obscure holdout in Bengals' history. With all eyes riveted on the nooks and crannies of Lewis' first camp and starting wide receivers Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick catching more leather than GQ, Washington's bid to become the highest-paid player in the third round didn't exactly capture the headlines.
What has passed for news is Warrick's powerful stake to the No. 2 receiving job that many thought would go to Washington by acclamation. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski doesn't care who that wideout opposite Johnson is, he just needs him "to beat bump-and-run consistently," after a week of watching the Bengals' new defensive consistently come after his receivers at the line of scrimmage.
With just $404,000 left of their $5.2 million rookie pool, all the Bengals could give Washington in bonus was $537,000, about $6,000 shy of the bonus
received by Lions defensive lineman Cory Redding, picked right behind Washington at No. 66 as the second choice of the third round. Glenn Rosenberg, Washington's agent, said Monday that the club agreed to an 800-yard incentive that would make his client the round's highest paid player and give him a deal in the $1.5 million range for three years. The Bengals don't usually do incentives for third-rounders, but given it was probably in the $10,000-range in any of the three years, it wasn't much to do the deal.
Washington, who turns 24 in three weeks, is a smooth veteran of a baseball negotiation and nearly 300 minor-league games, and he had no regrets holding out to get his incentive. He'll bid to become the first rookie receiver to catch 800 yards since Darnay Scott in 1994. Even Lewis seemed to realize the week would probably just end up being an asterisk.
"He probably saved his legs," Lewis said with a smile. "You wish you had him here, but all things happen for a reason. He was nursing the Achilles' in his foot, in the arch, and we didn't know how effective he would have been last week anyway."
While Bratkowski noted Washington had missed about 20 meetings, not to mention nine practices, a scrimmage, and a mock game, he also said Washington stayed around Paul Brown Stadium into mid-July getting treatment for his Achilles' and looked to be in excellent shape.
"He showed us some really good things in the spring. He was just starting to show the things he needed to show us," Bratkowski said. "He's a very powerful guy and one of the issues we're dealing with right now is how we beat bump-and-run. The only one who has consistently beat it is Chad. We need someone else to beat bump-and-run and Kelley showed us he's got the strength and he has the ability to do that."
Washington understands his value. It's the speed he bring along with his size that made him a terror at the University of Tennessee before he had surgery eight months ago to fuse two neck vertebrae that cut short his college career after 17 games. He played last season at 220 pounds and weighed 222 at the NFL scouting combine in February, but he wants to play here at 215 pounds.
That's how much he weighed at Knoxville his freshman season in 2001 at age 22, when he went off on the record book with 1,080 yards on 15.4 yards per his 70 catches and scoring once every 10 catches.
"We've got receivers who do a lot of different things," Washington said. "I'm trying to be an intimidating blocker, try to stretch the field vertically, and use my size and speed combination. Whether it's getting into three and four (receiver sets), I'm just trying to get the ball in my hands, try to use my size in mismatches, and get used to the system."
Receivers coach Alex Wood, the former head coach at James Madison University who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Washington to stay close to his Stephens City, Va., home, found him to be a quick study when he showed up at camp Sunday.
"Just sitting in meetings, he doesn't seem to be far behind at all, but we'll find out when he goes full speed," Wood said. "He looks good physically."
Although the conventional wisdom is that the club would like to put the 5-11, 192-pound Warrick solely in the slot sandwiched between the size and speed of Johnson and Washington, Wood and Bratkowski aren't closing the door on Warrick being the second receiver. Working against him is that he hasn't caught a ball of 40 yards or more since his first game in the NFL in the 2000 opener. But he also has never had an offseason as good as this one, either.
"Pete has been out there before at flanker and he came in in good shape," Wood said. "We're looking for explosion down the field. The more threats, the better."
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has never agreed with the knock on Warrick that he lacks the size and speed to play outside. Particularly after a terrific spring and summer in which Warrick slimmed down to 192 pounds. Plus, he has been all over the place at camp, including two vertical touchdown catches (35 and 49 yards) in Saturday's mock game.
"In this league, once somebody gets a perception of you, it's hard to change that," Kitna said. "The perception was he didn't have enough speed out there and I don't think that's the case. You have to let him do it. You have to let him learn it."
Ever since he arrived in 2001, Bratkowski has been looking for size and speed and he didn't stop after successfully standing on the table for Johnson in the second round of that draft. The specter of bump-and-run has always bothered him and a spring and summer of dealing with the Bengals' new bump-and-run defense against his receivers brought it home.
"I haven't seen enough of it in games to say it has been a problem. It's been a little bit of a problem in some of the practices," Bratkowski said. "We've got better at it. (Warrick) has done some good things against bump and run this spring. He's a little quicker, his speed is a touch better, yet it has to happen on a consistent basis from everybody.
"We're seeing a lot more bump and run in practice than we ever have," Bratkowski said. "Before, I was feeling if we saw it in a game, we'd be unprepared for it because we didn't see enough of it. Seeing it now gives us a chance to work at it."
If Lewis likes his cornerbacks big, it's because it always seems like they are always going against huge guys like Washington.
"Right away, you notice his big presence, Lewis said. "Then when he gets up at the top of the route, he's s got a great burst and then he changes direction and goes back and catches the ball. He makes them respect his deep speed, yet he can change direction and get back and to the ball. When he and Carson (Palmer) team up, or he and Jon, that ball is coming in with great height and velocity."
Footnote: The Bengals' top 10 all-time receiving list is book-ended by Tennessee receivers Carl Pickens (No. 1 with 530 catches) and Tim McGee, No. 10 with 282.
Footnote II: Washington arrives with an alleged reputation for being prickly enough that the draft experts said some of his college teammates didn't like his attitude. But he was a delight with media and fans Monday in granting interviews and autographs.
"The guy actually called me, 'Sir,"' said one Bengals official.