10-17-03, 8:55 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals found an inspirational poem titled "Believe In Yourself," printed on orange paper and put in each player's locker this week. They didn't have to put one in the spots reserved for running backs Corey Dillon and Brandon Bennett.
Last week, Bennett pulled aside offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski as they walked through the locker room after practice and told him he knew he was pressing.
"That wasn't me out there," said Bennett this week as he reflected on his rocky outing two weeks ago. "It wasn't me going out there relaxed and having fun and I told Bob and some of the guys on offense that I'm going to get back to doing that."
Bennett, Dillon's usually reliable backup, became the leaky basement and balky faucet in the 22-16 overtime loss in Buffalo when he fumbled once, bobbled two kickoffs, and stumbled in his six carries for a minus yard. But Bennett, 30, insists he's not done and neither is Dillon.
"I don't understand that stuff at all," said Bennett of the questions wondering if Dillon is in decline. "I thought he came back this year quicker."
And, according to head coach Marvin Lewis, Dillon looked a bit like his old self during Thursday's practice, his most active football workout since he re-aggravated his groin three weeks ago in Cleveland. Everyone knows Dillon is at his best when he's mad at the world, and Lewis appeared delighted with his progress and upgraded him to probable Friday. As Dillon walked off the field refusing to talk to the media for the second straight day Thursday, Lewis made a few observations.
"He's his old ornery self, pleasant guy to be around," said a joking Lewis. "He's fired his warning shot."
But Lewis wasn't joking when he said, "I just think he's excited to play. A prideful guy who wants to play. And he's worked very hard to get back to be able to play."
Asked about the warning shot, Lewis said, "He fired one at Terrell Roberts today, too," apparently referring to Dillon's hit on the rookie cornerback while running the ball.
Dillon is rated as probable for Sunday, and there seems to be some confidence he can go. Bennett thinks he might be able to go, and he liked the looks of Dillon before he got hurt.
"I thought he looked strong and he looked quicker to me," Bennett said. "I thought he was making more guys miss him than he has in the past. I just don't know what people are thinking."
Bennett also thinks he's got plenty left in his tank. He hears the criticism, but he also knows it's less than a year since he was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November after racking up 228 yards in Baltimore and 173 yards in Pittsburgh on kick returns.
With Dillon out for basically eight of the last 10 quarters, Bennett has been pulling double duty. He admitted he has felt some pressure to make something happen with Dillon on the sidelines.
"I've been going right from special teams to offense trying to make something happen," Bennett said. "But you can't try and make a big play every time you get the ball. You can't force it and that's what I've been doing. You get away from what you're trying to do when you try too hard. I've just got to go back to being Brandon and relax."
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said Thursday he'll put Bennett back to return kicks against the Ravens. He has had similar conversations with him.
"I know what I can do," Bennett said, "because I've done it."