Is it the shoes?

5-3-03, 9:50 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Maybe it is the shoes.

By all accounts, Peter Warrick is faster this year. Lighter. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna predicts a break-out year for the player that broke so many records at Florida State.

Maybe that's it.

The Florida State shoes. Warrick has been wearing them on the field all offseason. The Garnet-and-White shoes he wore the week of the 2000 Sugar Bowl, the last game of his college career in which he secured his Seminole legend with three touchdowns longer than 45 yards.

During Saturday afternoon's practice, he made a play that validated some of the thinking around the club that they've got the Warrick of 1999. As quarterback Akili Smith lofted a deep pass down the sideline that was a bit underthrown, Warrick looked lost in double coverage. But at the last instant, he launched himself over both defensive backs, and lunged backward with one hand to pluck the ball out of the air.

"He's faster. He's running better, he's got his weight down," said fellow wide receiver Chad Johnson. "He looks like he did back at Florida State. Could be the shoes. You go back to your old school that had the magic back in the day and put them back on. It could be the shoes."

But it's probably more because of experience and exertion. Warrick may be the first concrete evidence of the effectiveness of the new Bengals' off-season regimen. His body fat is down and he's trying to get to 190 pounds by the July 27 start of training camp, down from a playing weight that always hovered between 195 and 200.

Some of the things Warrick has taken advantage of in the program of new strength coaches Chip Morton and Kurtis Shultz are the agility drills and the nutrition format.

"Peter is one of these guys that rarely misses a day, if ever," Shultz said. "His body fat is down because he's eating well, but he is still maintaining his strength. He's a guy that always goes as hard as he can and I think what he has done in the agility drills has helped him. It's giving him more confidence with that first step."

Although Warrick is now seen as purely a slot receiver, there are those who think he has the speed and athleticism to be an effective down-field outside receiver. Warrick is "just taking it a day at a time.

"I'll be 190 by July 27," said Warrick of the opening of training camp. "Other receivers are 6-1, 190. I'm 5-11 and I weigh more. It will make me quicker. I'll be back to my Florida State days."

Warrick says the training regimen reminds him of what he had in Tallahassee.

"When I was at Florida State, I worked my butt off," Warrick said. "When I go here, it was easier, but now I'm back to Florida State again."

Kitna singled out Warrick Friday because he thinks he's on the verge of major things.

"He knows what he's doing as opposed to probably being more instinctive when he first came in," Kitna said. "He knows coverages and where to attack them. He knows the game better."

Warrick also thinks some people have put some unrealistic expectations at his feet. Yes, he wishes his career average of 10.7 yards per catch is much higher. But if he produces over the next three years like he did his first three seasons, he'll be sixth on the Bengals' all-time list with 348 catches and 10th with 3,730 yards.

The No. 4 selection in the 2000 draft and his stunning career at Florida State are the two major reasons people are looking for more.

"A lot of those people that say stuff are outside looking in," Warrick said." They don't know football, they just watch it. This is a different level. College was college. I moved on to a new life."

**

END GAME:** NFL sources outside the Bengals have indicated the club is still seeking defensive ends in free agency, but apparently have held off doing anything until they meet Monday after this past weekend's minicamp.

Word from outside the team is they have approached Duane Clemons of the Chiefs and Peppi Zellner of the Cowboys. The 6-5, 280-pound Clemons, who turns 29 later this month, had two sacks last season and has 35 for a career in which he has been viewed largely as a rush end since the Vikings took him in the first round in 1996. Zellner, 28, 6-5, 262 pounds, has been with the Cowboys since they took him in the fourth round in 1999. He's known mainly as a good run stopper with just six career sacks after none last year. "The Washington Post," reported Sunday that Zellner is expected to sign with the Redskins. After starters Justin Smith and Carl Powell, the Bengals also have for ends on the roster veterans Reinard Wilson and Eric Ogbogu, as well as sixth-round pick Elton Patterson.

HOUSH HURT: Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh surfaced Sunday with a cast on his injured wrist and said he is sidelined for a few weeks, but he also says he'll be back for the June 9-11 mandatory minicamp. Houshmandzadeh got hurt in Saturday afternoon's practice when he collided with two defenders leaping for a pass and landed on his wrist as he tried to break his fall.

It was a tough camp for the wideouts. Veteran Danny Farmer (hamstring) and rookie Kelley Washington (ankle) never made it back after getting nicked in the first practice.

**

MINICAMP MUSINGS:** Old left guard Matt O'Dwyer and new left guard Eric Steinbach are the Bengals' version of "The Blues Brothers." Both are Greater Chicago kids (O'Dwyer is from Lincolnshire, Steinbach from Lockport) and both were the 33rd picks when they came out of the Big Ten (O'Dwyer to the Jets out of Northwestern in 1995, Steinbach to the Bengals last Saturday out of Iowa). But as O'Dwyer said, "He wasn't even born when the "Blues Brothers," came out."

Pretty close. Steinbach was born April 4, 1980 and becomes the first Bengals' starter born in the '80s by virtue of O'Dwyer's move to right guard and right guard Mike Goff going to center. O'Dwyer last played on the right in his last season in New York in 1998, but thinks this transition is going to be easier than when he signed with the Bengals before the '99 season and they put O'Dwyer at left guard after moving Rich Braham to center.

"It's going to take time to adjust. I've been putting my right foot forward for years and I've been leaning to the right side for so long," O'Dwyer said. "But I think I'm stronger on the right and I'll get back to it pretty quickly. The on field-sessions (with coaches during the next month) will make it easier."

O'Dwyer and Steinbach are already comfortable enough around each other to insult each other about their play and their colleges.

"Why would you go to Iowa? There's nothing out there," O'Dwyer asked.

"Hey," Steinbach said, "Iowa City is a great place. Huge campus. A lot of wins."

Which is probably the first of many exchanges. . .

Rookie wide receiver Kelley Washington was limited with his ankle sprain Saturday and didn't work much. He hopes to be back full speed Sunday for the last two practices. The Bengals don't gather again for camp until the mandatory minicamp the second week of June. . .

NFL Films is doing a program on the history of professional football in Ohio, and head coach Marvin Lewis will be miked for a Sunday practice and the crew planned to film a team meeting. . .

On Saturday, the Bengals signed college free agent quarterback Tommy Jones out of Indiana. Jones is a native of Eaton, Ohio, a Dayton suburb. . .He takes the place of rookie free agent quarterback Ryan McCann of Tennessee-Chattanooga, waived before Saturday's first of two practices. . .

Darian Daily, (pronounced "Darren,"), head groundskeeper the last four years for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer, has been hired by Hamilton County through Paul Brown Stadium Limited as head groundskeeper for Paul Brown Stadium. Daily, 34, is originally from Dixon, Tenn., and has a bachelor of science degree in plant and soil science from Middle Tennessee State University.

"We had 52 applicants for this opening," said Eric Brown, managing director of Paul Brown Stadium. "We talked to people from as far away as Baltimore and New York City. But Darian has experience working with bluegrass in the state of Ohio, and the field at Columbus Crew Stadium is excellent. He's the right choice for us.". . .

The Associated Press reported that Los Angeles County police arrested a reputed gang member Friday in connection with the Easter shooting of Bengals fourth-round draft pick Dennis Weathersby. Police said Weathersby was an innocent bystander. Deputies served a search warrant at a residence, and found several weapons, including an assault rifle.

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