Re-Pete third down

9-18-03, 10:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Raiders' scouting report dumped on Peter Warrick.

Just saying the same stuff flat-out that people in the league have been whispering about since his rookie season.

They probably said he was just a little too small and a little too slow to be the kind of factor he was in college.

"It was told to us last week that the Raiders scouting report wasn't very favorable, and all that did was make him more determined," said quarterback Job Kitna.

But then when the Raiders looked up from their arrogance, Warrick had tied the game with 78 seconds left on an eight-yard touchdown catch. Of course, it came on third down. Third-and-four to be exact. Six of his eight catches Sunday converted third downs, giving him an AFC-leading seven third-down catches. A total of 87 of his career-high 109 yards moved the sticks against the Raiders.

"How many on third down?" Warrick asked. "Oooh. I like that."

So do the Bengals. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski says it's the best Warrick has played in the 34 games of his tenure. He is no longer the shattered, young-fourth-pick-in-the-draft dropping balls and always running backward in a desperate attempt to make something happen. He's getting open on crucial downs, and when he's not, this slimmed-down Florida State version of Warrick is starting to make defenders miss.

"I would say he's that guy," said head coach Marvin Lewis of the Warrick of his first few pro seasons. "He's got that quickness. . . I would say he has that kind of confidence I thought he had when he came in here to the NFL. I think he's back to that. People tried to chip away at him, but he's back there."

There was not only a crisis of confidence on the field, but also off the field. Joann Williams raised her son in the church. He sang in the choir and ushered,

but he admitted last year he had begun to get away from church after college during his first few years in the league. He became uncomfortable with his lifestyle and tried to re-order it all in an effort to make room for religion, which delighted his mother.

Warrick has always been a straight shooter since he arrived here. Ask him how that part of his life is going, and he says, "I'm trying. It's hard and I'm trying."

Joann, married to the youth minister at Mount Raymond Full Gospel Baptist Church in Palmetto, Fla., saw some growing up at home this summer. She didn't have to help husband Charles this time at Vacation Bible School and it was one of those times she could sit in the church and study the course. One day, her son went with her.

"I think it helps him and that shows something that he went," Joann said. "I think I could see some maturing. He's understanding some things."

Of course, the bottom line is, he's getting more chances. After two games, he's got 12 catches for 140 yards. He didn't have 140 yards the last two seasons until after the fifth game. He had 155 yards after his first two games in the NFL in 2000, but barely doubled that the rest of his rookie season.

"In college, he always seemed to get the ball," Joann said. "Now, it seems like they're using him more."

And there is the age-old question. Is it happening because he knows what he's doing. Or because the Bengals know what they're doing?

No doubt, a combination of both. Particularly with the hamstring injury to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, leaving the Bengals with just Warrick and Chad Johnson as their lone veteran receivers. .

"He's getting more opportunities because of the situation," Bratkowski said. "There's not as much four wides or anything like that, and he has really stepped up with T.J. being out."

Third-round pick Kelley Washington didn't have a catch Sunday, but his ability to run down the outside may be helping Warrick find some crevices in the slot. At 5-11, 192 pounds, Warrick's dimensions are better suited for the inside. A lot better than the 204 pounds he lugged in with him his rookie year. He wanted to feel the quickness of his Heisman Trophy run and got back to his Seminoles weight.

"Everybody has been kind of down on Peter and wondering why he hasn't done the things he did at Florida State," Kitna said. "This isn't Florida State, it's the NFL, and it's different. He's had to learn in four years playing receiver, two different systems, and now he's in the system for three years. He lost 10 pounds, he learned a different position, really, playing inside as opposed to playing outside like he was in college, and now you're starting to see the dividends of that."

Warrick still fancies himself an outside receiver, but the drafting of Washington has ended all that at some point.

"Really, they're getting me the ball and that's about the only difference," said Warrick, although in the next breath he'll say an extra heavy offseason, the dropping of the 10 pounds, and his patience running routes has made him a better player.

"He wants to be held in high esteem, and it's important to him, and it's important to his whole family," Lewis said. "You could feel it in their voices when you talk to them. He was here (in the offseason) and he worked very hard.

"Peter is answering the challenge, and he's leading his own march."

His slow start could be attributed to the fact that the Bengals didn't exactly surround him with veteran role models at receiver. Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott, and Michael Westbrook wouldn't exactly form a Hamilton County leadership conference. Pickens, who never made it to spring ball, was cut on the first day of Warrick's first training camp. Scott broke his leg a few days later, and when the Bengals cut hm before the 2002 season and brought in Westbrook, Westbrook was cut before December came.

"I learned on the run," Warrick said. "Like (Randy) Moss had Cris Carter. Peerless Price had Eric Moulds. Reggie Wayne had Marvin Harrison. I had to learn by watching film and trying to improve myself. I didn't have anybody to look up to, 'OK, I'm learning from you. Show me something."

Instead, Warrick has shown Lewis something ever since the two had a conversation at a Florida airport during the first week in April after Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich worked out for the team. Warrick explained to Lewis how he wanted to be a complete receiver, win back his punt return job, and do whatever it takes to win.

"He's done whatever we've asked," Lewis said. "He went into the weight room and really improved himself, getting his weight down and the body fat reduced."

Warrick, hovering at single digits for what body fat, has kept working it. On Thursday, he caught 25 punts after practice and special teams coach Darrin Simmons concluded, "Since May, he hasn't caught this many punts in his life."

If Warrick is playing with that Florida State confidence, his coaches keep giving him reasons. He's coming up on the year anniversary of his punt-return benching for dropping one inside the 5 in Indianapolis. Last Sunday, he appeared to make a mistake when he ran a punt out of the end zone back to his own 16. But Simmons is with him all the way.

"He knew exactly where he was on the field," Simmons said. "It was a 60-yard punt, a low line drive. We'd like to have it at the 20, but I'll take my chances because he's got a chance to take it 101. You want to be smart back there, but you don't want to take the ball out of his hands. You want to give your guys the opportunity to make plays. His decision was that the ball was low enough and the coverage was far enough away."

In a way for Warrick, this season is all about returns.

"The worst thing about losing," Warrick said, "is coming in Monday and having to watch it."

Imagine what the Raiders did with that scouting report after they watched their film Monday.

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