7-31-03, 6:40 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Marvin Lewis has been talking about this exciting new punt returner he can't wait to see. You might recognize him.
About 5-11, 190-195 pounds, great college career, averaging 13 yards per punt return. Wears No. 80.
Peter Warrick, who hasn't returned a punt since dropping one on the Bengals' five-yard line back on Oct. 6 in Indianapolis, is in the good graces of current management. He's still fuming about not getting another chance after T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped two punts later in the season, but on Wednesday Warrick was at the centerpiece of the club's overhauled special teams operation that worked for an unprecedented 40 minutes. Lewis says special teams coach Darrin Simmons taught Warrick so much in the spring that he's a new man on the depth chart.
"After it went live," Warrick said, "I didn't drop one. . . I didn't have the blocking I felt I should (in past seasons). I'm not making excuses. I'm the one that dropped the ball. Now I've got an opportunity to show what I can do against the double press. That makes me more confident."
Simmons has brought the "double press," to the Bengals from the rest of the league. It's where he double teams each of the outside coverage guys so that they don't get down the field in time to harass Warrick and the other returners. Warrick says it's a skill that needs concentration, and he admits he didn't have it because the Bengals' single press scheme allowed the defenders to get down field and get in his face.
Warrick, who ended his brilliant college career with a 59-yard signature punt return in the national championship game for Florida State, has been curiously dormant in that part of his game in the pros.
Yes, his 82-yard Bobby Orr touchdown on a frozen field as a rookie is as advertised. But that was three years ago, he's been benched twice since, hasn't had longer one longer than 31 yards since, and the Bengals finished next to last in the NFL with a 4.7 average return last season.
"I feel better about myself," Warrick said. "I feel it's my time."
He admitted he wouldn't have made one play last season that he made Wednesday. There was a short punt and when Warrick ran up, something clicked, and he backed away from it.
"Last year I probably would have ran up to it, fumbled it, and he would have been mad," Warrick said. I won't lie. I didn't have the desire."
In the last two years, head coach Dick LeBeau was mad enough to bench him twice. Back in 2001 against Lewis' Ravens of all people, LeBeau also benched him from playing receiver after dropping a punt and Warrick called it the most humiliating day of his career.
After the Indy botch last year, Warrick didn't get another chance even though Houshmandzadeh fumbled away punts in the second half of close games against AFC North rivals Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
"They put in T.J. and he did what I did and they rode him, stayed with him," Warrick said. "Everybody makes mistakes, but how can you learn from your mistakes if they keep switching back and forth? It's just like a quarterback. If you keep taking a quarterback out, you're going to shatter his confidence."
Now you can hear the Sugar Bowl confidence in his voice. Houshmandzadeh sat out Wednesday's practice with a hamstring problem, so Warrick got a bulk of the punts. After admitting he likes returning punts because of "the end result," he threw in the, "Nonna, Nonna," that begins the ESPN Sports Center theme.
"You don't have to be the fastest man in the world," Warrick said. "You have to have a change of direction. It's hard to catch a guy who can move laterally as well as north and south."
WASHINGTON HERE?** Third-rounder Kelley Washington's training camp belongings are sitting outside the cafeteria in boxes, heightening the speculation his holdout is going to end any moment. Agent Glenn Rosenberg couldn't be reached Wednesday, but apparently he did negotiate with the Bengals. Given their history of straight deals after the first two rounds, the Bengals probably are unmoved that they have less money in the rookie pool than is in Washington's draft slot, which is between $406,167 and $468,600.
CAMP STATUS:** Maybe it's not a slam dunk that this is the last year of training camp here and that the Bengals are going to join a dozen or so other NFL teams and hold training camp at their own facility next season.
Bengals president Mike Brown has always been a big fan of getting away for at least three weeks, those who have worked with head coach Marvin Lewis say he does too, and there isn't that much of a savings to stage a home camp. Both sides have high regard for the other and want to keep the relationship going. Talks to extend the contract with Georgetown College won't start until next week, until Lewis has had chance to digest the experience.
But with the college slightly breaking even at best, handicappers are calling it a 50-50 shot that the team will stay, and Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward acknowledged Wednesday the school is a bit more realistic about the relationship than it was back in 1997, and there are serious issues.
"We had stars in our eyes seven years ago," Ward said. "I think the college overestimated the economic impact camp would have. That has not been realized over the seven years. We're approaching this negotiation with an opportunity to generate a reasonable profit on campus so the whole college can benefit."
The Bengals' record since they arrived of 26-70 has hampered the college's revenue streams of merchandise, concessions, parking and corporate sponsorships. Attendance has always been sparse and the camp has just six or seven sponsorships now, Ward said, compared to more than 20 when camp opened in 1997.
"We had to take every one of those revenue streams and put them into the budget just to balance the budget for camp to make the numbers work," Ward said. "We're breaking even, or just a little better, but, no, that's not enough when it comes to justifying it to the rest of the campus."
But things have been going smoothly since the Bengals arrived Sunday in what has always been an amicable relationship. Brown has a solid relationship with Georgetown president Bill Crouch. Ward said the team' annual list of desires from the first few days has been dramatically shorter than in years past, and the club has always felt school officials have gone all out to make them at home.
Yet, it will just be like any training camp negotiation for a draft pick. A number has to be reached for both sides and while both camps wonder if it can be met, two things seem certain. Both sides will work hard to get it done, and if it's not here in '04, it will be at Paul Brown Stadium.
"Our goal is to generate profit through the revenue streams so we can put that money back into the college," Ward said. "Books for the library, fund projects not just for the football team or the conference center, but so there are benefits to the entire campus."