Sunday, July 28, 2002

Warrick shoots for greatness

Bengals' talented wide receiver wants to meet all expectations

By Mark Curnutte,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Peter Warrick holds the Bengals' franchise record for pass receptions in his first two seasons with 121.

Peter Warrick catches a pass during practice at training camp.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Warrick's 51 catches in 2000 were second-most for an NFL rookie, and his seven touchdowns — four receiving, two rushing and one on a punt return — were a triple-threat first for a Bengals player. Although he scored just one touchdown in 2001, Warrick improved to 70 pass receptions in the new offense brought in by coordinator Bob Bratkowski. Warrick also hasn't missed a game because of injury.

        Yet a cloud of underachievement, fairly or unfairly, hangs over the third-year receiver.

        Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said he understands why some people think Warrick hasn't lived up to expectations. It's not that LeBeau agrees with the fans or radio talk shows that have been critical of Warrick, the fourth overall pick in the 2000 draft.

        “I think Peter has done a good job,” LeBeau said. “Sometimes, when you come in with that No.1 handle, unless you walk on water, people might look at you from a different viewpoint. But there's only been one guy that I know of that actually did walk on water.”

        Warrick wants to meet the high expectations.

        “I have to shoot for my best,” Warrick said. “Even if I don't get them, I have to know I tried. If I get them, I'll feel good. I'm shooting for the stars. I'm trying to make this my break-out season. However, I have to do it.”

        Warrick has discussed his personal and team goals with Jon Kitna, who last year was the third starting quarterback Warrick played with in his career.

        “He wants to be great,” Kitna said of Warrick. “I talk to him a lot about getting 100 catches. To get 100, you need a little more than six a game, which he can do. He gets 10, 11, 12 balls thrown at him a game. So he has to catch the balls that are there and make some great catches. I have to get him the ball.

        “With him in the slot, he's like a very good tight end. When things are confused on the outside, I told him I'm going to come right at him.”

        Warrick has learned a great deal.

        “My goal this year is to be more consistent,” he said. “It's be consistent and do the little things, and take my time and take it slower — just like my Florida State days.”

        Warrick was one of the receivers involved in a private dispute last season with Kitna that the quarterback made public. How much blame did the receivers share in Kitna's 22 interceptions by running the incorrect pass routes?

        “Sometimes, I messed it up,” Warrick said. “Like last year, like when I knew I had a 12-yard route, I would run nine, because I felt like I'm open. But in all actuality, if a quarterback throws the ball wrong, it's not his fault. I ran the route wrong. It's my fault.”

        Warrick frustrated coaches and fans from time to time last season by giving ground after making a catch.

        “The difference is, I catch the ball, and I run back, like in college I could do that,” Warrick said. “But now I have to catch the ball and get up field. So I'm learning. In college, I could catch it and run around the defender. I can't do that now. Now, I catch it and go straight up field.”

        Bengals wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian and special teams coach Al Roberts, who works with Warrick on punt returns, have been talking to Warrick about being more selective.

        “He's not trying to make a huge play every time,” Mooshagian said. “A lot of it is he came in as such a highly decorated college player, and the expectation level for him is almost unfair. Sometimes, his name is going to be on the ball. Other times, he's going to just have to fair-catch it. The same thing comes with the passes. Some balls he's going to have to catch and turn up field and get a yard or two. He can't try to make a 10-yard play into a 50-yard play and go backwards.”

        Warrick is the receiver with the most service to the Bengals. Although he, Ron Dugans and Danny Farmer are all entering their third NFL seasons, Dugans was a contract holdout and missed some training camp in 2000. Farmer was a draft pick of the Steelers, went through camp with them and was picked up off waivers after his release. Veteran Michael Westbrook is in his first year of a three-year contract after seven seasons in Washington. The Bengals' other two receivers, Chad Johnson and T.J.Houshmandzadeh are beginning their second seasons.

        Within a span of two games last season, Warrick experienced a career statistical high and an emotional low.

        In a 16-0 loss Dec.23 at Baltimore, LeBeau benched Warrick for the entire fourth quarter after he fielded a Ravens punt inside the Bengals' 5-yard line and tried to return it. He was tackled immediately and was fortunate not to fumble.

        Warrick took the benching especially hard, calling it “humiliating.” The game also was the first in his career he didn't start, ending a string of 29 consecutive starts.

        The next week, Warrick again was held out of the starting lineup, but he ended up having the best game of his career. In the Bengals' 26-23 overtime upset of the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium, Warrick had 10 receptions for 109 yards.

        Warrick followed the Pittsburgh game with a productive performance in another upset victory, at Tennessee over the Titans. His five receptions in the season finale gave him 70 and triggered an escalator clause in his contract that will increase his base pay $500,000 for the remaining five seasons of his seven-year contract.

        Warrick finished with 667 receiving yards and one touchdown, falling short of his training camp goals for the season: six receptions a game (96 for the year), 10 touchdowns and 1,000 yards receiving.

        LeBeau said he knows what he wants from Warrick this season.

        “Some more of those 80-yard punt returns (82 to be exact) like he had two years ago and that reverse (77 yards) he ran against Denver that got our team breathing again,” LeBeau said.

        “We want to get the ball to him and get him in his environment, which is touching the ball seven or eight times a game, not necessarily through passes, but getting the ball in his hands and letting him play football.”


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