Warrick finally emerging as threat

Updated: October 3, 2003, 2:04 AM ET

CINCINNATI -- Peter Warrick catches the pass and shakes a defender with one of his zigzag cutbacks, reminding everyone of his big-play days at national champion Florida State.

Later in the game, he fields a punt in the end zone and runs it out -- an extreme lapse in judgment that's more typical of his time with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The fourth overall pick in the 2000 draft hasn't gotten much glory or satisfaction in Cincinnati, where he has blended into the misery of the NFL's worst team. He's trying hard to change it.

After four games, Warrick leads the Bengals with 22 catches and is third in the AFC in punt returns, averaging 13.9 yards. He lost about 10 pounds in the offseason, improved his conditioning and impressed quarterback Jon Kitna at the team's first minicamp with his determination.

"Everybody has been kind of down on Peter and wondering why he hasn't done the things he did at Florida State," Kitna said. "This isn't Florida State. It's the NFL, and it's different."

It took Warrick a while to learn that his cutbacks don't work so well in the pros and his talent wouldn't get him very far. It took him time to figure out how to play in the slot instead of split out wide.

In a short time, he's also had to learn two very different offensive systems, four different quarterbacks and a lot of the little nuances that make a bigger difference in the NFL. Warrick said the toughest part has been doing all of it without a mentor.

"I learned on the run," Warrick said. "I'm not learning from any other receiver, like Randy Moss had Cris Carter, Reggie Wayne had Marvin Harrison. I'm learning by watching film and going out there and trying to prove myself.

"I don't have anybody to look up to and say, 'OK, I'm learning from you, show me something.' That's hard to do."

Warrick also had to make the painful adjustment of leaving a successful college team and starting over with one of the NFL's bottom dwellers. The Bengals are 1-3 this season and 13-37 since he arrived, a real shock to his pride.

"This is not something that I want to keep doing," he said. "I'm tired of it. I hate it."

First-year coach Marvin Lewis could sense Warrick's determination to finally emerge when he met the receiver and his family in the offseason.

"You can tell he wants to do very well," Lewis said. "He wants to be held in high esteem, and it's important to him and to his whole family."

With Chad Johnson emerging as one of the league's top outside receiving threats, Warrick has gotten more chances to use his elusiveness on short passes.

He also has gotten a lot of leeway on punt returns, an area where he still has room for improvement.

In the season opener against Denver, he caught a punt at the 4-yard line and only made it back to the 10. He fielded a punt a yard deep in the end zone against Oakland and returned it to the 16 rather than taking the touchback.

Lewis wants Warrick to use better judgment, but likes his determination to try to make a play.

"That's fun, and he's having fun," Lewis said. "That's the thing about this game, when you have guys like that and they take a hold of it and say, 'I can do this.'

"Peter is answering the challenge, and he's leading his own march."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index