Rookie feels heat of opener

9-7-03, 9 a.m. **

This is the first installment of a weekly diary with rookie wide receiver Kelley Washington as he goes through his first NFL season. Washington, the Bengals' third-round pick out of Tennessee, turned 24 the day the Bengals broke training camp last month. He survived a serious neck injury that required surgery to fuse two vertebrae and four minor-league baseball seasons in the Florida Marlins' system to reach Sunday's NFL opener. With wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh out with a hamstring injury, he figures to enter the fire right away as the third receiver.**

To make it to this type of level, coming from a small town and going through a pretty tough injury, it's almost a story. I always said was going to write a book after it was all over. I've experienced so many things by 24 that a lot of people don't go through in their whole lifetime.

I know I'm a good player. I know I'll be able to contribute to the team. I know I'll be able to go out and make big plays. I'm big, strong, and fast. But I've got to work at it every day. Day and night, and learn from the veterans.

I take it like college. Things started slow in college. I didn't know the system. I didn't really know the position of wide receiver.

As a rookie, you can't really have that confidence the way you want. That swagger. Because you don't know the system fully. Once you get fully comfortable with the situation, you can take off athletically. That's what I'm trying to go for right now. I'm anxious to show these guys that I'm a gamer and that I'm ready to go to war with them.

When I went to see the doctor last month about my neck, I didn't think my career was over. I knew he was going to clear me and it was going to be fine and it has been fine.

You can tell this is Game Week. Every practice is important, but you can tell how guys are so serious running their routes, going after blocks, and doing their assignments. Doing the right assignment is the big thing, and during this week, every play has been so important.

I just look at guys like Willie Anderson, veteran guys like Tory James, Jeff Burris, guys who have been around for eight, 10 years. I look at how they work and prepare all week. How they get guys in the huddle, get practice started off on the right track.

Willie's a big guy, he's over 300 pounds, but he's running down field looking for blocks, running full speed, always running back to the huddle, constantly running up to the line. You look at a guy like that who has been in the league so many years still working hard, and I want to do those things. Day in and day out. I want to learn from those guys about how they prepare to play.

Rookies meet more than vets. The vets have been here three, four years. But the rookie receivers, myself, Lawrence Hamilton, Kevin Walter, meet after practice with coach (Alex) Wood for about 30 minutes. We write down plays, watch film, and just try to learn so when we get thrown in the fire we know what's going on.

The same thing kind of happened to me in college my freshman year. Donte' Stallworth got hurt and I got a chance to play. I've been getting some reps with the first group, and I think I'm ready to help. I'm just looking for a chance. I take pride in making plays and I want to bring my style, my excitement, to the NFL.

My mother is coming to the game with about six family friends. They're coming up from Virginia (Stephens City) and I know she's excited. It's a big day for us. Before a game, I'm thinking about my family and my teammates, and how I want to play the game.

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