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Is Dugans another Collinsworth?

Ron Dugans is Avis.

He is Burger King, Columbia Parkway, Lunken Airport and all those things destined to be No. 2.

But in the NFL, a No. 2 receiver can end up No. 1. Dugans, the prince to Peter (Warrick), The Great at Florida State and Cincinnati, can just ask Cris Collinsworth. Collinsworth, once a faceless second-round draft pick, is now as familiar as La-Z-Boy in the nation's living rooms. Thanks to a movie star face and velvet hands.

"It's an advantage. There's no pressure," recalled Collinsworth today of those 1,009 yards he caught as a rookie in 1981. "Everybody is going to be watching Peter Warrick to see if he's Superman. Any play Dugans makes, it's going to be, 'What a steal.' I think the guy's in a great position."

Back in the '81 draft room, Bengals president Paul Brown glanced at the snap shot of the slight Collinsworth in his skivvies and wondered if the club shouldn't draft Kansas wide receiver David Verser. When Collinsworth was still there in the second round, the Bengals didn't blink at taking another receiver.

Verser became best known as a Cincinnati policeman. Collinsworth copped the club's all-time receiving record.

"You never know," said offensive coordinator Ken Anderson, the former Bengals quarterback who was NFL MVP that season. Verser got the ink, "but Collinsworth made the plays."

A generation later, the Bengals took Warrick with the fourth pick in the draft, and by the time the third round came around, they couldn't talk themselves into any defensive player. Plus, with many in the draft room looking for Carl Pickens' Cincinnati death sentence, Dugans surfaced as the best player on the board as easily at that spot as Collinsworth did 19 years before.

"Definitely a great pick," said quarterback Akili Smith after today's workout, the first informal workouts for rookies.

Smith and backup quarterback Scott Covington sat at their lockers musing about the kid receivers. Dugans came up right away.

"Seasoned," Covington said. "He definitely knows what he's doing."

"I agree," Smith said. "He's as good as advertised."

The Bengals aren't looking for Dugans to make people forget Warrick, a player they feel can become a superstar. They think they've got a nice tandem for the long haul.

"If we're talking about both 10 years from now," Anderson said, "we're in pretty good shape."

Today was typical Dugans. He ran 14 yards when the pattern called for 14 yards. Not 12. Not 8. Fourteen. Which means he already may be the most precise route runner on the team. He's big - 6-1, 205 pounds - but he stopped and cut easily. He caught the ball away from his body. This from a guy who shuns the flash of Randy Moss and Keyshawn Johnson in favor of the Vikings' Cris Carter because, Dugans said, "He's not the fastest guy and he's average size, but he's got knowledge and plays like a vet every Sunday."

So Dugans blue-collared along and let everybody else fret about Warrick's whereabouts.

Today's headines belonged to Warrick and his inability to get to workouts for another three weeks because he must attend to his community service in Tallahassee, Fla., stemming from his guilty plea for petty theft. Tomorrow's story is the Warrick contract negotiations are underway.

Meanwhile, Dugans continues to run eight-yard curls in Warrick's 100-yard shadow.

"I went through it at Florida State last year," Dugans said. "I had my role. I have my role here. At times it can be frustrating. But if you let something like that frustrate you, you won't last long. You'll be thinking about it instead of thinking about your plays."

When the Bengals picked Dugans, club president Mike Brown asked the draft room if there was an objection to taking Warrick's college teammate. He was quickly waved off. In fact, they ended up drafting a guy some have called Warrick's conscience. If there was one guy who could get Warrick to work out before the draft, it was Dugans.

"He listens," Dugans said. "Just the fact we've known each other for so long. I can tell him 'You can do better,' or 'I know you're a better person off the field. Maybe you don't need to hang with this person or that person.' But he does the same thing for me. We know what we can say to each other."

Collinsworth didn't have the luxury of getting drafted with a teammate. But one advantage he had over Verser is he came out of Florida's NFL-like pass offense. Collinsworth's offensive coordinator was Mike Shanahan, who ended up Masterminding Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl titles to punctuate the '90s.

"You get two guys from Florida State and they're already a little bit more savvy as receivers," Collinsworth said. "They've been well coached. Another thing you throw into it is you come in with a chip on your shoulder. Every coach is telling you they'll take you in the first round and you end up still waiting in the fifth hour. Believe me, I wanted to prove myself. I'm sure they were telling Dugans he was a late first, so he's got something to prove."

Collinsworth loved being the underdog. No. 2. He remembered a preseason game at Riverfront Stadium early that rookie season. With all eyes on Verser, Collinsworth bobbed and weaved for a few catches. Then he went long and the ball got overthrown, but he stretched out with his fingertips touching the river.

"And the place went nuts," Collinsworth said. "Right then and there I said, 'I'm going to love this city.' "

So now Dugans knows.

You can start out No. 2 in this league, but...

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