No. 9 still fine

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals rookie receiver Peter Warrick is homesick for touchdowns and victories, of which he has none after his first three games in the NFL.

So with the help of Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker, Warrick tried to get back in that Florida State of mind. Instead of wearing his Bengals' No. 80 jersey during Thursday's practice, he wore a Bengals' No. 9 jersey, complete with "Warrick,'' over former kicker Doug Pelfrey's old number.

"It makes me feel better," said Warrick of the number he wore while he scored 38 touchdowns and played for a national champion.

"I just wanted to remember the old times at Florida State. Yeah, that's what I'm hoping for. I hope it rubs off on Sunday."

Recker did the deal after getting permission from two head coaches former coach Bruce Coslet and current coach Dick LeBeau and rolled out No. 9 for the first time Thursday.

"Whatever it takes to get some Ws," Recker said. "If it helps a guy, I'm all for it. It's all about players and it's all about winning."

Warrick continues to shrug off the hard times.

"I'm not frustrated," Warrick said. "It's cool. I know it's going to take time."

THIS AND THAT: Bengals President Mike Brown watched a LeBeau practice for the first time Thursday and was pleased: "I Iike the way they're going about it. They're out there at a good uptempo clip. It seems to keep them attentive and enthusiastic. It was a good practice." . . .

Pro Bowl KR Tremain Mack is troubled by a gimpy ankle and missed Thursday's practice. Special teams coach Al Roberts thinks Mack has been thinking about the ankle, which is a major reason he's fumbled a kickoff deep in his own territory the last two weeks. If the ankle is still gimpy, look for Roberts to rotate WR Damon Griffin and CB Rodney Heath. . .Roberts also said Warrick won't return punts. . .

DE Vaughn Booker checked in today and is getting ansty about playing again. He hasn't done anything since passing out in a game two weeks ago, but he felt well enough to today to try and talk the Bengals out of sending him to the Mayo Clinic Monday for final clearance. But the Bengals won't clear him until he makes the trip. . .LB Takeo Spikes (hip) sat out Thursday, but is expected to play. . .

LEBEAU 'STEELS' PRAISE: If you think the Bengals' players have embraced Dick LeBeau as their new head coach, you should hear what the former Steeler braintrust is saying in Pittsburgh and Miami.

Chan Gailey, the Dolphins offensive coordinator who plays LeBeau's team this week, was the Steelers' coordinator when LeBeau led the Pittsburgh defense. Asked why the Steelers loved to play for him and "go to war with him," Gailey didn't bat an eye.

"For the same reason men went to war with General Eisenhower, General Patton and Big John Wayne," Gailey said. "Because he's honest, he's tough and he's a competitor."

Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' former director of football operations who lured LeBeau to Pittsburgh in 1992 because of his zone-blitz scheme, couldn't have been happier to hear his friend was finally getting a shot.

"It was the best news I've heard in a long time," Donahoe said. "He's very quietly paid his dues with tremendous loyalty and great integrity. He's taught me so much about players and so much about the game. I don't have any doubt that the Cincinnati Bengals will win some games. He makes average players play good and good players play great and that's what coaching is all about."

Even current Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who clashed with LeBeau at times, had high praise for him at his weekly news conference.

"He's a laid-back guy and everyone talks about that," Cowher said. "But I'll say this about Dick: Dick's got a little fire in him, too. We've had our moments together, and I've seen him work with the defense as well, so he'll do a good job."

Donahoe lumps LeBeau with new Jets coach Al Groh as two of the best-kept secrets in the NFL.

"He probably didn't get a head coaching job until now because he's not a self-promoter. There are guys out there you wonder what they're doing with the jobs they've got, but Dick doesn't seek attention. Football is all about discipline and preparation and that's what Dick does during the week, but I think he's even a better coach on Sunday, He can adjust."

Usually the biggest hump a coach has to get over is earning the players' respect. Both Cowher and Donahoe believe that's a given.

"Players will enjoy playing for Dick LeBeau. They're in good hands," Cowher said. "The situation is not how he wanted this opportunity to unfold because he's a man of integrity, and I'm sure that he was probably the first one to try and talk Bruce (Coslet) out of walking away, and that's because that's the way Dick is. At the same time, if he's handed this responsibility, he's going to put his heart and soul into it because that's how Dick LeBeau coaches. I've got tremendous respect for him.''

Donahoe said, "Players know that Dick played the game at a very high level and he's an innovator. I have no doubt he'll have respect on both sides of the ball."

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