Hitting the wall

**

Another installment of rookie receiver Peter Warrick's diary this week with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com as the rookie prepares for Sunday's game in Dallas.**

THURSDAY, 8:30 a.m.

Warrick has been talking about "hitting the wall," this week. Counting the preseason games, this will be his 14th game of the season with six more to go.

"Not physical," he says. "Mental."

Today, the mental stuff starts with just him and receivers coach Steve Mooshagian in the coach's office. Like it does every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The other receivers are in a special teams meeting while Warrick and Mooshagian break down film.

Today, it's the one-on-one drills from Wednesday and some seven-on-seven, where the backs and receivers work against the linebackers and secondary.

The one-on-ones are mainly for technique purposes with the hope of transferring it to a game: releasing off the line of scrimmage, positioning of the body during routes, hand placement.

"P Dub is getting more sleep now. It's the most I've seen him awake in weeks," Mooshagian says.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Warrick says.

He laughs and admits, "It's not that I go out. I don't do it that much. It's just staying up watching TV or playing PlayStation. Just not going to bed until late. Just getting used to not being in college."

Warrick comes off as happy-go-lucky country. As easygoing as a sunny day in his native Florida. But start talking and watching football and an edge turns P Dub into P. Warrick, a man who wants to defend his reputation as the nation's best offensive player of a year ago.

"What's he been doing?" Warrick asks as Mooshagian talks about some of the NFL's other rookie receivers.

"As far as attempts thrown to you, yeah," Mooshagian says as the they ponder Warrick's 11 drops. "I must have seen 10 of their games and his ratio of catching balls to balls thrown, 80 percent have to be drops."

Mooshagian is clicking through the Wednesday practice tape, looking for a post pattern Warrick ran on veteran cornerback Tom Carter.

"You had a great 'beat the man,' post yesterday, one of the best I've seen," Mooshagian says. "This is what we've been trying to get you to do and you're buying into it. Finally, this makes me smile. Now you're doing things we're talking about."

Warrick runs straight up the field and doesn't dip his shoulder or shift his weight to tip Carter if he's going inside or outside.

"This little move is great, it's a big-time move. Look what it does to him. Look what it does to Artrell (Hawkins)," Mooshagian says.

"That's TC," Warrick says.

"You made that move on your starting cornerback, an eight-year veteran. He's pretty solid coverage-wise," Mooshagian says as Warrick catches the ball all alone in the post.

The key? Warrick waited to get up on his toes and up close to Carter, then gave a little juke to the outside before slicing inside.

"They want to make all their moves too far away because they want to get open now," Mooshagian says of the rookie receivers.

"Because we're faster than everybody," Warrick says.

Or as Mooshagian says, "they overestimate their speed and underestimate the speed at the pro level."

Warrick wants Mooshagian to run another play back, one where he's trying to run a different kind of post on cornerback Charles Fisher.

"I knocked Fish's hand off, too," Warrick says. "Dallas won't play it like that, will they? Are they going to have a corner run with me?"

"They could in that coverage," Mooshagian says.

"Rewind it back, Coach," Warrick says. "Watch him put his hands on me. See me knock him away?

"A veteran move," Mooshagian says. "If they get their hands on you, they distort the distance. If you get off them, it affects their balance."

The tape and conversation turn to blitz adjustments, a hot topic since there were very public instances in last Sunday's 27-7 loss to Baltimore where the receivers and quarterback Akili Smith didn't know what the other was doing.

Warrick's flanker position (known as Z)isn't as responsible for making blitz adjustments as is the split end (or X). But there have been new elements installed this week to make it easier.

"But you can't write them," says Warrick, raising his eyes at his diary."

Now the two are looking at more Dallas tape and Warrick sees a familiar play being run against the Cowboys.

"He's got to throw it to the fullback," Warrick says. "We had this play in college."

"We watched your cutups all the time," says Mooshagian, the former Fresno State assistant who visited Florida State with his staff, "back when you probably weren't even born yet. Back in the '80s."

Mooshagian wants Warrick to look at one more play from seven-on-seven. To the coach, it's evidence that Warrick is making what he calls, "Quiet Progress."

Remember earlier in the season when Warrick ran across the middle and the ball would sail behind him? Bad pass? Or bad route?

Warrick makes this catch (slightly to the side instead of getting totally in front of it) as he goes across the field and scoots up the field past the linebackers.

"I like what you do here," Mooshagian says. "You're in control in the hole. Let's see it from the end zone. See what you did different than you did in Pittsburgh? You were out of control in the hole. Here, you can work yourself back. You're staying square to the football, although you do let the ball get a little past you."

"I said that yesterday when I caught it," Warrick says. "I said I thought I let the ball get past my eyes just a little. If I catch it like that, he couldn't have got a real good lick on me, either."

Mooshagian says that's another plus for staying square over the middle.

"You protect yourself," he says. "When you open yourself up this way, they have four spots to hit you instead of just two. Your body takes the shots from the side much better. When you're square, you rarely see the ball pop out. You've gone from a C to a B-plus on that."

Mooshagian says it's a small thing only he'll notice, Warrick will notice and the quarterback will notice.

As Warrick cuts up the field past linebackers coach Mark Duffner trying to strip him of the ball, Smith punches a fist in the air.

"Next time I'll run over Coach Duffner," Warrick says laughing.

Thursday, 9:20 a.m.

After a 9 a.m, team meeting, the offense meets as a group until the 10:45 a.m. walk through, trying to fine tune third-down situations.

After the club eats lunch at noon, Warrick hangs around Mooshagian's office until he dresses for the 1 p.m. practice. Most of the time that takes him out of the media period in the locker room, but it's hard to tell if that's because he's sick of talking about his struggles and those of the offense, or if he's just sick of talking about himself.

"I don't like all the attention," Warrick often says. "I like to be a team guy. I don't like to be any different."

Thursday, 3:05 a.m.

Practice is over, but most of the receivers are sticking around to catch some balls. Warrick gets in on a conversation with Mooshagian and Damon Griffin on the proper way to run a slant. Mooshagian can't stand it that Griffin runs the route with a straight leg.

"Like this," says Warrick as he puts down his helmet and shoulder pads. "You've got to bend your knees. That's all. You bend your knees and you get a little push off, little burst."

Thursday, 4:40 p.m.

After lifting weights and meeting with Mooshagian one last time for about 20 minutes to review Dallas' nickel package, the receivers head home.

Warrick wasn't thrilled with the prospect of lifting weights. He's tired and sore, but he ended up doing it anyway.

"He says that all the time," Mooshagian says. "At the end of the week, on Friday, he'll say, 'Coach, I can't practice today.' But he always does. Just trying to get ready."

Mooshagian is hoping his Monday message sticks. He's been trying to hammer it home each day.

"That wasn't us out there," he says of last week's Baltimore game. "This 'we're not on the same page,' is getting to be a little too old cliché now. We ought to be on the same page. You ought to take enough pride in your work to be on the same page.

"Look in the mirror and ask yourselves if you're doing everything possible. Are we in bed when we should be? Are we studying? Are we studying the details of the game plan? I see your tests. You know it, but you have to transfer it to the field. We have to pick it up."

Warrick thinks he is in this, the toughest season of his life.

"It's not hitting the wall, but it's how you handle it," Warrick says. "All the meetings. Man, we're here from eight to five every day. It's getting adjusted from college. I'm doing it. I'm starting to be more of a man about situations. This is my job. This is my life."

Friday, 8:31 a.m.

Warrick's life today starts with a P Dub Muffin. He slaps some scrambled eggs and bacon between an English muffin down in the cafeteria and brings it upstairs to Mooshagian's office.

Warrick usually wears colors of the team the Bengals are playing that week, and so Mooshagian notices his loose, flowery blue shirt and oversized jeans.

"I went to the club last night," Warrick says laughing. "Nah, I was in bed early."

Warrick is sipping a Coke, but he's already got some jolt in him because Mooshagian is going over red zone plays.

"Anything new for me, Coach?" Warrick asks.

There have been additions to the game plan based on the Dallas tendencies and what has been working in practice.

"Don't move in your stance," Mooshagian reminds him on one play. "And we've got to go over what you did on this route yesterday.

"Yeah, by the time I saw (the coverage) I knew it was too late," Warrick says.

"That's reading your coverage on the run," Mooshagian says.

Warrick wants to know, in so many words, is the bomb ticking?

"When you least expect it," says Mooshagian, who sits in the press box during the games and talks to offensive coordinator Ken Anderson on the sideline.

"My home boy, he loves Dallas, he told me one of their guys is hurt," Warrick says.

Told there's no word on the guy he mentioned, Warrick shrugs.

"Maybe he's got hurt feelings," Warrick says.

On Thursday, Mooshagian reminded the receivers the turf at Texas Stadium tends to stay damp in some spots and they should bring two pairs of shoes. Today, he's pointing out the markings of the end zone to get Warrick familiar with his routes.

"Look at Ron Dayne right there, that's a touchdown, I know that with that boy running down there," says Warrick of the Giants running back banging into the end zone against the Cowboys.

Mooshagian shows Warrick where he thinks the holes will be and how the coaches think the defense will react. After the rest of the receivers meet after special teams and the team meeting, the club goes to the turf field for an hour practice that emphasizes special teams, red zone and the two-minute drill.

"It's freezing out there," says Warrick of the 40-degree weather. "I'm just not used to it."

Rookies. He's told to wait until a December game in the fourth quarter and the wind blowing off the river.

"Everything's a change," Mooshagian says. "I really think if you look at the first Cleveland game and the second Cleveland game, there's so much improvement. Even off the first Baltimore game and last week. Really, if he could have just caught some of those (drops, because he does many things well, like getting off the line, and his routes are good, and he studies."

Friday, 11:30 a.m.

Warrick is sitting on his helmet watching the defense in the red zone and he's shivering despite wearing a couple of layers under his jersey.

"Pete, can I get you anything?" asks right guard Mike Goff. "Would you like me to build you a campfire?"

Asked the location of the coldest game he ever played, Warrick chattered through is teeth, "here." The coldest Paul Brown Stadium game this year? About 50 degrees.

Friday, 2:30 p.m.

Warrick and the rest of the receivers head to Mooshagian's house for the monthly Friday dinner north of town prepared by his wife Rene.

Fried chicken, home made macaroni and cheese, and a little ESPN classic is on the menu. The Mooshagians could only laugh when they looked up once and all five of them were on their cell phones.

Plus, Warrick has to sign some of his football cards. He has entrusted Mooshagian's daughter, Janaye, a high school senior, to sort his mail sent to the stadium. If there is a self-addressed stamped envelope, Janaye has made sure Warrick hasn't whiffed yet on an autograph request.

During dinner, Warrick tells her he'll pay her back at the end of the season with his Mercedes 500.

Just a joke. But there was no joking when they started watching ESPN and, of all things, there was a piece on quarterback Jeff Blake and the club's all-time leading receiver, Carl Pickens, when they were going deep for the Bengals all those years ago. That was followed by a look at Jerry Rice, the NFL's all-time receptions leader.

Mooshagian made sure his guys caught the drift.

"I thought that was good for them to see Carl," said Mooshagian, after he ushered them out with full stomachs and some more food to take home. "They could see that he was smart. That he wasn't fast. That he used his knowledge more than anything. That's what we talk about. Being crafty."

Then Mooshagian watched Warrick watch Rice.

"You can tell," Mooshagian said. "How well he wants to do. He just sat there and watched."

"You're right, Coach," Warrick said once, turning to Mooshagian. "Look at how square he is."

So the rookie challenge continues. Staying square and hoping his prep and college career comes full circle.

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