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Big plays both ways

8-29-02, 6:45 p.m. **

(Another installment of Bengals rookie strong safety Marquand Manuel's diary taking him through his first NFL preseason.)**

No, I didn't see the replay on ESPN. But a friend of mine told he saw it after our game Saturday night against the Saints.

They showed Fred McAfee getting a real good block on me on their punt return for a touchdown. I was just about to reach out and get the ball carrier, Michael Lewis, but McAfee came out of nowhere from behind.

They probably didn't show the next play, our kick return. I got a good block and helped Curtis Keaton get a 30-yard return that he almost broke. I felt good about that. That I was able to make a good play after something bad happened.

Al Roberts, our special teams coach, said I just should have tried to fly after

Lewis and take him down anyway I could. I tried to break down, because I figured I might miss the tackle, but as it turned out, I didn't have enough time to do all that. I didn't expect McAfee to come all away across the field like that. It was a good hustle play on his part and I was able to come back and make a hustle play on the next snap. That's all special teams really are. Hustling.

They said if I had fallen over on my stomach, they would have called a clip. He did hit me in the back of the shoulder pads, but it happened so quickly I couldn't get turned around and I fell over on my side. Just another thing to learn.

I like rituals. They've been hanging my helmet on the left side of my locker with a hook, but I like to keep it in the middle of the top shelf facing out. I always make sure I have a white rag on my belt before I go out and play in a game. I always wear my black T-Shirt with the initials of my family members on the front and back in a game. Stuff like that.

I'm trying to find rituals here, both in games and every day during the week. This week has been the first week we're in the schedule we're going to have during the season. Now that we're out of training camp, we don't have anything more at night during the week. We meet at 8:30 in the morning and go to 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

Monday was like the first day of school for me with that new schedule. It only takes me about two minutes to drive over to the stadium because I've got an apartment across the river in Covington. They've got breakfast for us at the stadium, but I just eat something before I leave the apartment and I've been getting here about 8.

That leaves a half-hour for me to watch film with Al, or my position coach, Darren Perry. DP and Al pretty much have the door open and you can just walk in and talk or look at some tape.

On Tuesday, I was one of the last of the DBs to leave the film room at about 20 minutes to 5. It's not like college, where after practice you had to do some schoolwork. After I leave here, what am I going to do? So I figure I might as well watch some extra tape. I'm still just trying to get into a pattern.

I thought I played better against the Saints. I had been giving myself Bs and B-minuses and C-plusses, but I thought I got about a B-plus Saturday night. I took a few snaps at free safety and made a couple of calls and that felt pretty good. There really isn't much difference in the two positions in this defense. But the big thing is you have to remember what side you're on.

I still feel like at times I'm just moving around out there and not flat-out playing like I know I can and the way I did at Florida. But I'm close.

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