BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals have heard rookie receiver Peter Warrick's call for the ball, which is being echoed by his teammates. And someone is listening.
The Bengals plan to rotate Warrick with Craig Yeast on punt returns this Sunday in Pittsburgh, with Warrick making his NFL return debut either taking every other one, or every third punt in an effort to get their No. 1 draft pick into the end zone.
"I'm glad to see him back there. I used to get mad at Florida State when they took him out a few times," said Bengals rookie receiver Ron Dugans. "If it's late in the game and it's close, this guy's a gamebreaker. I've seen his capabilities."
Warrick stewed after Sunday's 23-14 loss to Tennessee and made his displeasure known after the game. He caught his only pass with 1:27 left in the afternoon and then wondered why the Bengals weren't getting him the ball.
"It's a combination of things from what I can see," said an NFL talent scout Wednesday. "The problem with Cincinnati's offense is it's just too young. Sometimes the routes aren't right. Sometimes the quarterback can't find them. Sometimes the protection isn't good.
"You can't have a rookie quarterback and two rookie receivers and expect it to go smoothly. They'll get Warrick the ball once the quarterback settles down and I think the quarterback will be a good player. He'll pan out. But it takes time with these guys. It didn't help the quarterback got rocked early in the season. The offensive line hasn't played all that well."
But Warrick is the classic young man in a hurry. He didn't back down Wednesday from his post-game frustration, but he emphasized he didn't want to come off as selfish.
"It's not all about me at all, but there's a reason they picked me. They picked me to come here to help, right?" asked Warrick, the man who accounted for 40 college touchdowns catching, running, throwing and returning. "I'm not saying I want the ball every down. But I feel like I deserve the ball.
"Let me give you an example," Warrick said, using Vikings receiver Randy Moss. "Everybody in the league knows he's a great receiver. People put in defenses to stop him. But they still go to him. I just got in the league. They're not putting in any defenses to stop me. That's why I feel like I should get the ball. Like (Jacksonville receivers) Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith. People put in defenses to stop them and they still get the ball."
Remember when Warrick was on the Saturday night highlights so much last year that you thought he was a studio host?
"I never make the highlights now, but that's not what frustrates me," Warrick said. "What frustrates me is 0-5. I wake up every morning saying, 'Are we really 0-5?' Then there's reality and you have to say we'll keep fighting."
Defensive captain Takeo Spikes made sure he took a break in Wednesday's practice to let Warrick know he didn't mind his call for the ball.
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"He's not being selfish," Spikes said. "He told me he'd block for 16 games if we won. But we're losing and he just wants to contribute. I feel like they're giving him all that money (nearly $10 million to sign), give the man a chance to show what he can do because right now we're not being productive on offense, so he's a born playmaker. Give him the pig."
The Bengals are trying, but quarterback Akili Smith threw to him just three times on Sunday. He scored on a 15-yard reverse in the exhibition season, but has run the ball only twice during the regular season for 11 yards.
Travis Taylor, drafted by the Ravens at No. 5 after the Bengals took Warrick at No. 4, has more catches (20-16) and more touchdowns (3-1), but Warrick has more yards (225-218). Sylvester Morris of the Chiefs, taken No. 21, has 17 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Seattle's Darrell Jackson, taken in the third round, has 20 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
"I still think I ought to get four or five balls, (no matter the defense,)" Warrick said, and receivers coach Steve Mooshagian thinks he knows what he means.
"I don't see him passing the buck on anybody else," Mooshagian said. "He's putting it all on himself. His biggest point is he's watched enough games now that he knows what constitutes being open in the NFL is that sometimes you have to throw it up and make a play and he feels he's capable of making those plays. He's saying throw a few up there to him, and he just wants some chances. I think he's putting it all on himself and no one else."
When it comes to a Moss comparison, Mooshagian thinks his guy stands up well as a complete receiver.
"He's made contributions in the run game," Mooshagian said. "He's not afraid of going downfield. The guy's trying to become a complete player."
Special teams coach Al Roberts had been hesitant to let Warrick return punts while he learned both receiver spots in the wake of Darnay Scott's season-ending injury. But at 0-5, there is a what-is-there-to-lose sentiment.
"We want Peter to get his hands on the ball and sometimes when the offense isn't clicking, he's not getting his hands on it enough," Roberts said. "This is just another way to use him. I'm not talking about every punt, but every other one or every third."
Yeast will get the Steelers' first punt and Warrick could get the next one in his first NFL chance since returning two for touchdowns at Florida State that included a 90-yarder.
Warrick figures he won't be rusty. He catches two punts a day in practice and he's still got the moves that allowed him to break a 59-yarder in the Sugar Bowl earlier this year for a touchdown.
"You've got to have a little wiggle in you," Warrick said. "I feel like I've got it. But Craig Yeast has it, too. You can't take anything away from him. I just want to get more involved."
Yeast, who averaged 21 yards per punt return last year, is only at 6.4 yards this season on 15 returns.