BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals rookie wide receiver Peter Warrick, the best college player in the land last season, wanted to make a point today about the quantam leap to the pros. So he guided a reporter into position across from him in order to show why his tendency to widen his pass routes are a problem in the NFL's bump-and-run world.
"You're the DB," said Warrick, promoting the slovenly scribe to NFL cornerback. "Say I've got the outside route. I'll go by you here (a few feet wide of the DB). So all he has to do is cut me off. If I get up field (cutting closer to the DB), I've got him behind me. You want him behind me instead of beside me. . .The quickest way somewhere is a straight line."
Warrick's bid to bring the Bengals into the elite has already meandered into a rookie's inconsistency. He's made two one-handed grabs worthy of an ESPY. But he's also had a few oopsies with nearly as many catches (eight) as drops (six). He's on pace to finish 33 yards shy of Eddie Brown's club record of 1,273 receiving yards set in the 1988 Super Bowl season.
But Warrick knows he could get away with widening against bump-and-run playing for Florida State. Not here.
"Just a bad habit," he said.
Ron Dugans, his Seminiole soul mate who has also leaped into the starting job as a rookie, knows it, too.
"To his credit, Peter Warrick has made some very special plays, some exciting things, but he hasn't shown the consistency he has to," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "They can't do what they did in high school and college. The defenders are quicker and faster, bigger. It's more discipline. They learn a lesson every week. They'll figure it out. But we can't expect them to do it before they do it."
By all counts, Warrick can't miss. But he also can't wait. He doesn't want to wait to excel at a position that takes grooming. It took Darnay Scott six years to catch 60 balls and Carl Pickens waited until his third season to catch 1,000 yards. Now Scott's broken leg and Pickens' broken five-year promise have left the Bengals trying to replace their 859 career catches with none.
"A lot of receivers have been around a long time and it took them a long time to adjust," Warrick said. "I'm trying to adjust to it quicker than usual. I don't want it to take three or four years to get to where I want to be. I want to try and do it right now as a rookie."
It doesn't help that his quarterback, Akili Smith, is also virtually a rookie. Smith can see the youthful mistakes when it starts to break down.
"The (defense's) little adjustments and stuff like that tends to throw our focus off," Smith said. "When a defense throws a different wrench into the whole game plan, we've got to be able to adjust on the sideline and make it happen on the field."
Bengals receivers coach Steve Mooshagian says it took Scott five seasons to perfect his techniques getting off the line of scrimmage against the bump. There are no tear-away jerseys here. You can't just run away. There are hand moves and feet placement. Mooshagian thinks Warrick will be in plenty of situations to master it before then, but he sure wishes Scott was healthy so Warrick could see how it's done. So when it gets frustrating out there, he doesn't stray into his college habits.
Warrick knows, "It's the little things. . .I have to stop worrying about making the big play and just make the play itself."
Winning isn't all that little back home in Florida. Where Warrick was never 0-2. Not in high school. Not in college.
"Anywhere. Not in my life," Warrick said. "Back at home, they say,'You all going to be 0-16.' I let them know we're not going to be 0-16. We're going to win some games. That's what it's all about. It's all about being a competitor and making plays." . . .
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Warrick remembers the plays he doesn't make. He tries to move past them, which is why Dugans is good to have around. Anyone remember the play before he made the miraculous one-handed catch 28 yards down the middle against Cleveland?
"The ball came across the middle and when the ball came up and I looked up field, I dropped the pass," Warrick said. "Ron told me not to worry about it. There's another play coming. (The great catch) didn't erase that drop in the playbook. In my mind I'm thinking that was a great catch and I put that behind me. But I know deep down I still had a drop."
Warrick watches film. Coach Bruce Coslet told him today not to just look at DBs on tape, but the NFL's best wideouts. Warrick says he watches how they get off the line, how they accelerate out of their cuts. But the biggest adjustment is transferring the video defense to the real thing.
"When you look at film and you have a play called, you're saying, 'If they do this in that coverage, you do that.' But when it's happening in reality, it's a different story. It's happening real fast. You don't have time to say, 'I'm going to do this.' "
Last week, after the three drops in his NFL debut, Warrick was asked if he ever had a game like that. Yes, he said. His first game back last season after his two-game suspension for petty theft. He tried to do too much. Today he was asked if he ever had two games like this in a row.
"When I first started out in college," Warrick said. "I know that I'm good, but it's a lot I have to learn."
Now about bump-and-run. . .
"I do well (getting) off the line," Warrick said, "but instead of me getting more up field, I widen and it makes it easier for the DB. It looks like I didn't do my job."
Warrick used to cry when he lost. Now he figures, "we won't win every game, but as long as we try to do our best." Someone told him it must be tough to be 0-2.
"Tough," Warrick said. "But fair."
The Bengals think Warrick is going to be plenty of both.
Just not today.