Warrick trying to learn on the run

Rookie wide receiver dealing with drops for winless Bengals

September 22, 2000|By Mark Curnutte | Mark Curnutte,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CINCINNATI, Ohio - Peter Warrick had never been 0-2 until he joined the Cincinnati Bengals.

He had never dropped a half -dozen passes in a couple of games until, again, he put on Bengals stripes and tried single-handedly to deliver them from the worst decade in NFL history.

His transition to professional football has been humbling. Yet the can't-miss shine is still there. So is the confidence of a two-time, Florida State All-American. Warrick is sure that big games are just around the corner in the NFL.

"I just have to get the feel for the game and know that Peter Warrick can be good," he said Wednesday after practice.

The Bengals will play the Ravens on Sunday at PSINet Stadium.

Warrick, the No. 4 draft pick, starts at wide receiver for Cincinnati, along with another rookie, Ron Dugans, who was his teammate at Florida State and the Bengals' third-round pick. The inexperience of the wide receivers, along with the poor play of the offensive line, has contributed to Akili Smith's 40.4 quarterback rating - the second worst in the league.

And outside of Smith, Warrick faces the most pressure to perform. It's pressure he welcomes.

"Everybody's talking about us being young," said the 23-year-old Warrick, "and I know Ron and I are going to get better as time goes on. I know we've just started, but we have to pick it up and play like veterans, not rookies."

Warrick has eight receptions for 155 yards, second best of all rookies to Kansas City's Sylvester Morris. Warrick's numbers project to 64 catches and 1,240 yards for the year.

But, oh, those drops. He had two balls in his hands against Cleveland and two more easy ones slipped away in Jacksonville.

He has diagnosed his problem.

"I just have to make the play itself and stop trying to make the big play," he said.

Bengals coach Bruce Coslet still marvels at Warrick's gifts, in spite of the dropped balls.

"We expect him to catch everything," Coslet said. "It's not frustrating to me. It's just waiting for a young receiver to get the consistency that he needs to have. [Warrick and Dugans] are so worried about doing the right pattern at the right depth that they end up saying, 'Oh, I forgot to watch the ball.' "

Against the Browns in the season opener, Warrick had his man beat across the middle. Smith laid the ball right in his hands.

Clang. He dropped it.

The next time the ball came Warrick's way, he was streaking down the middle. The pass looked long. But he reached up with his right hand, pulled the ball into his chest and ran for another 10 yards to complete a 46-yard gain.

Even though he stands just 5 feet 11 and weighs 195 pounds, Warrick has huge, thick hands. His hand span is 10M-= inches from the tip of his pinky to the top of his extended thumb.

It's another of Warrick's skills - his ability to cut while running a pass pattern - that impresses teammate Tom Carter, the former Washington Redskins cornerback.

"He's real smooth," Carter said. "When he breaks, he really breaks. That's when he gets open."

Bengals backup quarterback Scott Mitchell, who started the first two games of 1999 for the Ravens, has thrown dozens of passes to Warrick in practice.

"He never seems to be off balance," Mitchell said. "You don't ever see him stumbling out of a break."

Warrick signed early and appears intent on shedding the immaturity tag that came with him to Cincinnati. Three weeks ago, he completed the 30-day, 300-hour community service sentence he was given for a charge of petty theft from a department store. He had to pick up trash along Tallahassee, Fla., highways.

He signed more autographs than any of his teammates at training camp in Georgetown, Ky.

"I want to keep my fans happy," he said. "I want everybody on myside. I don't want any negative attention."

He made Bengals fan happy in the team's only preseason win, over the Bears in August. Warrick scored on a 14-yard reverse, dropped the ball in the end zone and jumped into the first row of stands. It was his version of the Lambeau Leap. He promises to carry it out every time he scores.

But he knows the only way he's going to score, is to focus on the little things.

Like beating the cornerback off the line. Warrick excitedly showed off a new move he has picked up to a couple of reporters after Wednesday's practice.

"You're the [defensive back]," he said. "Stand in front of me. What I used to do was run way outside, which helped the DB get an angle on me. It was a habit I could get away with at Florida State."

Not in the NFL. Warrick now cuts harder off the cornerback's hip in an effort to get the defender behind him, where he can't get the ball.

"The quickest way to the ball is a straight line," he said. Instead of going out at night, Warrick said he and Dugans spend a lot of their off hours watching film of receivers and opposing defensive backs. They are some of the first players to practice and always among the last to leave.

Warrick watched some film recently of Jacksonville receiver Jimmy Smith.

"They've been in the league for a long time, and it's taken them a long time to adjust to all that," he said. "I'm trying to adjust quicker than usual. I don't want to let it take three or four years for me to get where I want to be. I want to try to do that right now."

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