Housh, as in push, for lead role

9-20-02, 12:00 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

When Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh played in the Fiesta Bowl at Oregon State, he always got a kick out of the fact broadcasting legend Keith Jackson knew how to pronounce his name when he met him for a pre-game interview.

But he's not too sure ESPN's Paul Maguire knows that it is hoosh (rhymes with push)-mahn-ZAH-duh.

"I doubt it," Houshmandzadeh said during Thursday's interview on bengals.com audio. "The only people on the Bengals that guys know about are Gus and Westbrook because of the Redskins, Denver and what not. P.Dub, C.D., and Spikes, Willie, outside of that, B. Simms, Jeff Burris, not too many guys on our team that are really known like that because we lose.

"We' re going to be all right," he said of the Bengals-Falcons matchup Sunday night. "We'll be fine. Everybody's going to be motivated knowing we're on TV."

Houshmandzadeh, whose candor is becoming as dependable as his hands in his second season, has a good chance of making the start because his groin pull has improved enough for him to practice this week. He has made a name for himself even though he's had to do more as a seventh-round pick.

"Chad and (Peter Warrick), when they do something good, it's like, 'OK, they're starting to show why we drafted them.' But when me, and Duges and Danny (Farmer) do something, it's like, 'Wow, they're overachieving,' just because (where you) were drafted," Houshmandzadeh said.

"There's a lot of first-round picks that turn out to be sorry, a lot of second-round picks that turn out to be sorry. Guys like Shannon Sharpe, supposedly the best tight end, were picked late," he said. "Some people are good pro players and some are better pro players."

Houshmandzadeh, Chad Johnson's college teammate, has never lacked for confidence. He says he's the Bengals' best wide receiver. Dating back to the May camps, the coaches would probably agree he has been their most consistent and reliable wideout.

"When I was in college, I thought I was better than Chad and he thought he was better than me," Houshmandzadeh said. "When I got here, I (thought) I'm the best receiver. (At) the first day of practice at minicamp, I thought I was the best guy. That's just me. Some think that I am, some don't."

Houshmandzadeh admits he ran a "lazy," route last week up in Cleveland on a play he didn't expect to get the ball. He still thinks he made a sliding catch out-of-bounds on the play even though replay wiped it out, but he knows he has to be crisper this week against the Falcons' primarily man-to-man coverage.

"They played us man and they play a lot of bump-and-run on the tape," Houshmandzadeh said of a club the Bengals played in the preseason. "That's fine with me. I feel like I'm going to get off the bump. You're going to win some and you're going to lose some, but I would like to think I'm going to win a lot more than I'm going to lose."

Houshmandzadeh doesn't think the training-camp quarterback derby has crippled the Bengals' passing game. He does think Gus Frerotte needs some time to learn how his receivers run routes, but believes they are on the verge of breaking out.

And he would like to hear ESPN's Joe Theismann call it.

"I was telling somebody, 'Man, we got to go out and play the way Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire talk about people.' You got to be ready to play. It doesn't matter who you are. Stars. Nobody. You mess up and they're going to point it out."

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