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C.P.: Initial run with C.D., J.B., Rudi J.

Posted Aug 11, 2005

5:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON

James Brooks (left) wants Chris Perry to go deep.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Corey Dillon's Patriots return to Cincinnati on Friday night to begin his final march to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the building where it began on the day he carved out 278 yards nearly five years ago.

As Dillon opens his ninth NFL preseason with a brand new Super Bowl ring, the Bengals prepare to unveil one of their crown jewels in their bid to complete the transition from the smash-mouth Dillon Bengals to an offense they hope approaches the dazzling versatility of the last Super Bowl team.

Chris Perry, a James Brooksish-type running back whose downfield catching skills the Bengals hope can be used to exploit Carson Palmer's long ball, finally gets on the field Friday in the fittest shape of his pro career to join an offense suddenly heralded and feared.

TOP FIVE ACTIVE NFL RUSHERS
Name Teams Seasons Att Yds Avg All-time Rank
Curtis Martin NE, NYJ 10 3298 13,366 4.1 4
Jerome Bettis STL, PIT 12 3369 13,294 3.9 5
Marshall Faulk IND, STL 11 2771 11,987 4.2 11
Eddie George TEN, DAL 9 2865 10,441 3.6 16
Corey Dillon CIN, NE 8 2210 9,696 4.4 18
"I'm excited, but I just hope I can make it through the whole season," Perry said. "When that happens, then I'll be excited."

But Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson, one of the eight Bengals starters who started in front of Dillon, put out a reminder that it didn't happen overnight.

"Everybody thinks now everything is being done better," Anderson said, "but some of that stuff (is) still there."

Team-oriented offense
One day earlier this week, Anderson surveyed training camp as he tried to make his point. While this offense may be different than the one that Dillon's running game dominated, it has a solid foundation. Pro Bowlers Anderson and Chad Johnson, 73-catch man T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi (nine 100-yard games) Johnson. They've been there before.

"That's what happens when you play with a great player like that," Anderson said. "We were losing so much, (some in the media) were saying he was getting those yards by himself. People started to buy into that whole aura."

"Even (Dick) LeBeau one time said it in a meeting, '(Dillon) gets half the yards by himself,' " said Anderson of the head coach Marvin Lewis replaced. "(The perception) was 'Corey Dillon is just carrying guys five, seven yards.' Folks buy into that whole thing. (The offensive line) was good. We could have been better, but we still allowed him to get 1,300, 1,400 yards when we couldn't pass from here to Marvin at those steps."

But Anderson has only good things to say about Dillon. They haven't spoken much since they patched up a falling out before last season's preseason game, yet Anderson keeps up with him through Dillon's best friend on the team, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

"I was happy he got a ring. I knew the things he went through here, the struggles he went through here," Anderson said. "He's going to go down as one the top running backs of all time now that he's got the ring. That's what we all shoot for. What I really hate is he's not going to Canton with me."

And Dillon should be going to Canton. He's 2,404 yards shy of the magic 12,000 career figure. Of the 11 men who have that many, seven are in the Hall of Fame, three (Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis) will be, and Thurman Thomas will get some votes.

Since he's averaging about 1,200 yards a season (and coming off his career 1,635-yard year at age 30), Dillon should be there at the end of the 2006 season at age 32.

TOP FIVE BENGALS RUSHERS
Name Yrs Att Yds Avg Rec TD Rec
Corey Dilon 1997-2003 1865 8061 4.3 192 5
James Brooks 1984-91 1344 6447 4.8 297 27
Pete Johnson 1977-83 1402 5421 3.9 173 6
Harold Green 1990-95 968 3727 3.9 145 3
Essex Johnson 1968-75 675 3070 4.5 121 11
10. Rudi Johnson 2001- 593 2478 4.2 42 0
Perry, the first-rounder who lost his rookie year to injury last year with a deep abdominal muscle pull, is one of the few on offense who never played with Dillon. Heck, (and can this be?) he was only 15 when Dillon stormed to the NFL rookie-record 246 yards against the Oilers.

"I think everyone should pay homage to Corey. He's probably the greatest running back in Bengals history," said Perry, who remembers the PBS crowd's surly reaction to Dillon last year. "All the boos need to stop. The way he runs, he was a dog. They should put up a banner for him. He's one of the all-time great running backs. How can you knock a guy whose team was below .500 and he'd get 1,200 and 1,300 yards? He always came ready to play. He might not be everybody's favorite person, but he produced."

Brooks makes visit
But the guy in Bengals history that Perry gets compared to showed up on the sidelines at last Friday's intrasquad scrimmage. James Brooks, who at 5-9, 200 pounds played about three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Perry, checked out the '05 club. One of the guys he wanted to see was Perry and if he could run pass patterns downfield like he could.

Not only did Brooks run for 6,447 yards as a Bengal, but he caught 27 touchdown passes.

"That's what I'd like to see him do. Stretch the field, put pressure on the defense," Brooks said. "Can he go all the way down the field so Carson Palmer can show off his arm?"

Brooks did his thing in the West Coast offense. But during training camp, Perry has been doing a lot of what Brooks did in offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's multi-receiver sets. Many times he has been lined up wide or sent in motion, and sent down the field on long receiver-type routes not known since the days the Bengals tinkered with Dillon and Ki-Jana Carter in the same backfield.

The "Jet" package never took off because of Carter's injuries. But the Bengals not only see Perry as a threat on third down when Rudi Johnson is off the field, but also on first and second down paired with Johnson.

Jim Anderson, the Bengals running backs coach since Brooks arrived in 1984, still shows his players his masterpiece from the AFC title season of '88, when Brooks bobbed and weaved for eight rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns while Ickey Woods hammered away for a Dillon- and Rudi-like 1,066 yards.

"They kid me about it," said Jim Anderson of those old-school cutups he has no doubt updated for Perry.

"I can do different things. Hopefully I'll be able to get in there and make an impact," Perry said.

He has certainly made an impact in practice. His acceleration, speed, and hands catch your attention. But the word "practice" has to be underlined.

"It would be a nice addition if it looks like he can do what he's done so far," Bratkowski said. "It'd be another piece to the puzzle. He opens up avenues that we haven't been able to use before."

Sharing the load
The addition of Perry marks more than a passing element in the transition away from the Dillon years. Except for his first and last years in Cincinnati, Dillon carried at least 262 times. The bell-cow theory stayed last year in the first post-Dillon season when Johnson lugged the biggest percentage of his team's carries in the NFL with a club-record 361 attempts.

But when the Bengals went to two playoffs from 1988-90 with a 29-19 record, no back carried more than 221 times and eight backs carried at least 83 times in those three seasons. In the five years of the 21st century, just seven backs have carried at least 90 times.

Although Brooks always wanted more carries, he thinks it worked for the best that head coach Sam Wyche divided the load. In '88, Woods had only 21 more carries than Brooks. Brooks was appalled at Johnson's 361 carries.

"He can't keep doing that and survive," Brooks said. "Look at Earl Campbell. You can help each other taking turns, like I did with Ickey. We made each other better because we were strong running the ball late (in games)."

After watching Perry in the scrimmage, Brooks knew what Jim Anderson would be telling him in the tape room.

"He's got good explosion, but he has a tendency to run sideline-to-sideline. Running parallel," Brooks said. "I know Jim will get on him to get it up field as soon as possible. Take it and go and don't go laterally. It's early. He'll be fine. I hope he does well. There's a lot of pressure on him."

Perry shrugs. The pressure is not being able to play. Pressure is trying to run with a searing pain in your stomach. Going head-to-head with the Bengals' all-time rusher and following in the footsteps of the Bengals' all-time playmaker is the fun stuff.

"I hope I make him proud," Perry said.

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