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What a rookie hears

Marquand Manuel: "Being a football player, not a robot."

8-3-02, 8:20 a.m.

(Even though the Bengals drafted Florida strong safety Marquand Manuel in the sixth round and have him running third team, some team insiders project him into the starting lineup before the end of the season. But he is still very much a rookie. On the morning of his first live scrimmage as a pro, here is the first installment of Manuel's training camp diary)

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ I do a lot of listening.

I always have my earphones on listening to music. It relaxes me and makes me focus on football. Ever since I got here, I've only been listening to Trick Daddy. I've got four CDs and I keep playing them through. I probably won't put in a new CD until after camp.

He grew up pretty much in the same neighborhood I did in Miami and he talks about a lot of things I can relate to. You could say it's the hard side of Miami. He talks about a lot of positive things, too. It keeps me mentally focused on the reason why I have to succeed and it makes me think where I came from and how I got here.

You want to keep your eyes and ears open and keep your mouth closed. Keep focused on the small things. He talks just about life and what it can bring. Whether you're a first-rounder or a sixth-rounder, life has its ups and downs. It really is what you make of it. If I have a bad scrimmage, the only thing I can do is go as hard as I can every play. It's the only thing I can control.

I love the game, I just want to get back healthy. Nothing big. I've had a head cold since the middle of the week. My hip is sore. Small muscles. Typical dog days stuff.

Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes and a lot of the other vets told me not to expect to ever be 100 percent and that's going to be an adjustment. Brian Simmons told me it's going to be 90 to 95 percent at best.

Our safeties coach, Darren Perry, keeps telling me to play like a football

player and not a robot. I think I'm starting to do that. I'm past the knowing part, now I want to make plays. I don't know everything, but I've got a lot of the basics down. There was a play Friday that I think shows I'm being a football player and not a robot.

There was a seam route and I was the seam player and we were in a fire zone. I was in under coverage and I had to match the second receiver coming up the field. The lineman had to match Peter Warrick and I had to match the next receiver coming up through the seam and it was just natural. That's the key. Not thinking. That's when you can make more plays.

We're the lack-of-rep guys. We don't get a lot of reps, so we have to take mental reps. I watch the first and second team and see what I should and shouldn't do. I'm not disappointed being third team. It was the same thing that first year at Florida. You just have to be ready when your time comes. Spikes and Simmons have talked to me and they've just told me to worry about doing my job.

The vets expect certain things from you, like we have to carry their pads, but they haven't been wild and crazy about giving us a hard time. On the off night, Wednesday night, about 15 of us went to a small place in Lexington to listen to some music and just chill. Takeo went and Justin Smith went, but it just wasn't defensive guys. T.J. and P.Dub were there. We hitchhiked with guys. We're rookies, so we pretty much went along for the ride.

I spend a lot of time with the other safety who was drafted, Lamont Thompson. I guess that's why, because we already have a lot in common. He's in my dorm and on that first night I got up to go to the bathroom and there he was coming out. I didn't even know he was here. I guess I was kind of surprised because people didn't think he'd sign that quickly. We ride each other and all that, but he's usually just sitting back and chilling.

There's not much free time to read a book or anything like that. After practice, you get in the cold tub and get treatment and then you eat dinner and you don't have anytime to rest before the meetings. They go to 9:30. Curfew is 11, but I go back to the room, put on the TV, and I'm sleeping by 10, 10:15. I'm used to the heat. I made sure I trained twice a day back in Miami, from 9 to 12 and then started again about 5:30.

Special teams is my meeting. I'm a special teams guy. I live and die by it. I do everything. I'm the personal protector on punts, I can rush, I can cover.

Dick LeBeau, the head coach, spoke to us the first night we were here and he's the kind of coach who spits it out to you raw. He said we're tired of getting kicked around and we're going to kick people around now. I'm the same way. I hate to lose.

Mike Brown, the owner, also spoke to us, and that was different coming from college. There, it's just between the players and coaches. It was interesting to hear what we're expected to do and what he's expected to do. We play, they pay, that's the way it is.

I remember back to that first day of practice last week and how I couldn't breathe because I was getting used to the pads. The one thing I took from that practice is Coach Duff getting on me on one play.

Mark Duffner, the defensive coordinator, wants us to try and strip the ball every play. On this one play, I pulled up on Chad Johnson after he caught a skinny post. I could have leveled him, but I'm not a gym shorts All-American. I'm not going to show off in practice. But they want you to go hard all the time.

I'm looking at this scrimmage no differently than the other practices. I always look at practices like they are games. The CD I'll listen to the morning before the scrimmage is probably going to be Thugs-R-Us and my favorite song on that is "Thug Holiday."

It's not the image everybody thinks it is. He talks about the everyday things and puts it on a different level. That song talks about what's going on in the real world today. Why people rob and steal. It's because they don't remember the small things in life. It's a positive outlook.

In a way, that's what I'll be trying to do in the scrimmage. It's about the little things.

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