Sunday, April 30, 2000

Warrick treasure chest of potential




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Bruce Coslet was smiling as he watched Peter Warrick practice for the first time.
(AP photo)
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        Peter Warrick is not a sprinter. Not that that matters.

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        Watching the Cincinnati Bengals' No. 1 draft choice run a straight line is like listening to Springsteen doing scales. It's like judging Monet with a tape measure or War and Peace by its weight.

        It tells you nothing really relevant.

        What's important to know about Warrick is that he shifts as fluidly as a Ferrari, with the turning radius of a top; that he hangs in the air like a hummingbird and can contort his body as if unburdened by bones; that on the last play of his first practice as a professional he split two defenders, twisted his trunk around in mid-leap and caught a pass that left his coaches cackling.

        “That's why he's going to get the big bucks and everybody else works for peanuts,” Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said. “He can do that, and we can't.”

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(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Coslet's smile bespoke serenity and not simply because he was through contending with Carl Pickens. The Bengals left the industrial stench of Spinney Field Saturday afternoon for the breezy ambiance of their new riverside practice fields, and there was a whole lot to like. Coslet was struck by the space, by the view, by the sight of quarterback Akili Smith correcting teammates who lined up improperly, and by a rookie receiver whose straight-ahead speed doesn't begin to define him.

        Warrick took the stopwatch test like everyone else, racing 40 yards at full speed on an AstroTurf course bordered by plastic cones.

        Bengals president Mike Brown stood in a management cluster at the finish line, comparing his hand-held results with those of his staff. Consensus times were diligently recorded, carefully guarded and promptly ignored.

        “There's more to this game than running a 40-yard sprint,” Brown said.

        Warrick, Brown said, is “a 4.5 guy,” which is better than decent and short of dazzling. It means he's unlikely to show up in Sydney for the Olympic 100 meters but that he has sufficient speed to get open, to get deep and to get touchdowns in the NFL.

        “He's fast enough to be a big-time receiver in this league,” Brown said. “If you take the top 10 receivers in the league, I don't know if half of them would be as fast as he is.”

        If any of them is any quicker than Warrick — any more likely to leave a tackler lunging at shadows — he probably ought to be outlawed. Some guys, it is said, can cut on a dime. Warrick cuts so sharply that his dimes depict Franklin Roosevelt with a fresh haircut.

        “Pete is a combination of a great receiver with the running skills of a Walter Payton or a Barry Sanders,” said Bengals rookie Ron Dugans, Warrick's teammate at Florida State.

        “He can catch the 6-, 7-, 8-yard route and take it 70 yards for a touchdown,” Bengals tackle Willie Anderson said. “He's a great home run hitter. He can go deep at any time.”

        Coslet's goal is to find as many ways as possible to put the ball in Warrick's palms without exceeding his ability to absorb the offense. This means Warrick may not immediately be lining up as a shotgun quarterback, as he sometimes did at Florida State. He may not be throwing the reverse pass to Dugans that went for a touchdown two years ago against Florida. Not right away, at least.

        “I don't think there's anything he can't do,” Coslet said. “But I'm not going to overextend him. I wouldn't be doing my job if I did that. We want to know what he does well, what he's comfortable with.”

        Even the most talented college players have a transition to make in pro football. At Florida State, Warrick customarily lined up as a slot receiver. With the Bengals, he generally will line up on the weak side of the formation. He and Dugans spent Friday night quizzing each other on their new playbooks.

        “I'm not here to prove myself,” Warrick said. “I'm not trying to do too much. I've just got to go out there and do what I do best.”

        What Warrick does best is to make people miss. He devoted part of his first visit to Paul Brown Stadium trying to decide which end zone was more conducive for his first touchdown. When he returned to Cincinnati for this weekend's minicamp, he told Smith the new stadium was his home.

        “First of all, that's my home,” Smith replied. “But I've got a suite for you.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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