Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill has a fan in Corey Dillon.
When the Bengals' 30-0 victory in Cleveland last Sunday hit half the nation's homes, Corey Dillon caught some of Jeremy Hill's act in between driving the kids and driving the golf ball in Malibu, Calif., and the club's all-time leading rusher approved.
"He's got game. He's nice," Dillon said when told none other than Boomer Esiason has been comparing the two. "Much imitated, but never duplicated."
Dillon laughed, but maybe he wasn't joking. In a career he broke two of the NFL's longest standing and most revered records, Walter Payton's single-game rushing record and Jim Brown's single-game rookie rushing record, he became the personification of the big back when he averaged 4.3 yards per carry for a team that struggled to average five yards per pass in his hey-day.
"In this day and age, with where the game is going, you don't see the big back as much as you used to," Dillon said. "That combination of power and speed is tough to beat. It's rare."
Dillon turned the channel quickly as the Bengals pulled away ("I wanted to find out what was going to be The Game,"), but Dillon has seen enough this season as Hill racks up the hardware. This week it was AFC Offensive Player of the Week, and the Fed Ex Rookie of the Week after he posted his third 100-yard game of the season with 148 that put him 11th in the NFL with 877 yards on five yards per carry.
"He's dynamic. He's a good runner with great vision," Dillon said. "That's the No. 1 attribute you have to have because if you're not able to see what is going to happen, it doesn't matter how big or fast you are. If you're telling me he's 230 pounds that surprises. He doesn't look that big."
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson goes one better. He figures the 5-11 Hill goes 238 pounds, making him the biggest of the league's top 11. A Dillon in his prime at 225 pounds would be bigger than everybody but Hill, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell (230), Houston's Arian Foster (232), and Green Bay's Eddie Lacy (231).
And Hill is even bigger now that Jackson has him at the centerpiece of the running game instead of sharing with 5-9, 205-pound Giovani Bernard.
With the Bengals at their highest yards per rush of the season at 4.3, Jackson admitted after Wednesday's practice that the running game seems to be smoothing out. Between injuries to Bernard and A.J. Green, a rookie running back and center, and a season-ending injury at right tackle, sometimes Jackson' off-season commitment to the run got lost.
"Sometimes you have to go back and look in the mirror and remember what you said to yourself and go back and do it. In order to do that you have to make some decisions and we made them and I think we're heading in that direction and by no means is that slighting any other guy – not even to Gio or to any of the linemen," Jackson said. "I just think at some point in time to get where I think we need to be at this time of year there some decisions that needed to be made and we made them."
After the Bengals ran just 22 times in the 24-3 blow-out loss to Cleveland Nov. 6, Jackson has loaded it up and they've averaged 35 runs in the five games since.
"I had my butt kicked up over my shoulders. I know what that felt like. That didn't feel good," Jackson said of the first Cleveland game. "No doubt (I gave up on the run earlier than I should have), but at the same time I learned something about us during those times, too. When you try to do the other and it doesn't happen like you think it should, you know what you have to keep improving at, too. There are a couple of times I've kicked myself in the butt and said, 'Hey, look what are you doing?' because I know what my background is and what I am."
It has been easier with Hill, a guy that just gets stronger as the game goes. Hill has closed the last four wins in the fourth quarter in Aroldis Chapman-like style with 28 carries for 111 yards.
"Once you get a feel for the defense, you get a feel for how some guys are tackling you, you get a feel for how they're fitting in some plays and how they're not fitting some plays, and obviously the more comfort you get with more carries," Hill said. "You can't get that really with one or two carries. You can't get that feel. The more carries you get the more feel you have for the game. I guess it's kind of like baseball when you're going against a pitcher and by the time the bottom of the ninth inning comes around if he's still in there you've kind of got the feel for what he's about to do and what you're about to see. That's a good comparison."
Dillon had the same M.O. It will be recalled that day in 2000 when a Denver defense brought its No. 2 rushing ranking into Paul Brown Stadium and he broke Payton's record, he served up his longest runs of the day in the last five minutes on touchdown runs of 41 and 65 yards. Denver is here again with the No. 2 rush defense, but don't look for such explosions against this crew.
"That's why I ran so hard for the first three quarters," Dillon said. "By the fourth quarter, the cornerbacks and the safeties wanted nothing to do with you. They didn't want it anymore. I loved the fourth quarter. That's why I played the game. Have fun. You've got to have fun out there."
They sound strangely familiar as Hill talks about his bruising style.
"I like to have a lot of intensity... It's just bringing a lot of passion and intensity to the game and just running hard," Hill said. "Try to enact my teammates, and get those guys going. I like to have fun out there, as well. Just having fun with it. You only get to be out there a couple hours on Sunday. So I try to make the most of it anytime I'm out there."
Dillon has always heard that he ran angry. Ever since he came into the league after everyone passed on him in the first round and then found himself in the throes of a losing team. But he would disagree with you.
"They say I ran angry, but I don't think that's right," Dillon said. "I played defense in high school and junior college and I knew that part of the game. I had a defensive mentality. Basically, it comes down to getting hit and I would rather hit you than you hit me. I loved to hit."
Hill found himself in Dillon-like controversy after the first Cleveland game when said in frustration. "They were worse than I thought." Then during last Sunday's game, when he celebrated his 16-yard touchdown run by leaping into the front row to join a Bengals fan, a Browns fan pushed him back into the end zone.
"It was a good play by that guy. He kind of shook me out of nowhere," Hill said. "I guess that's why it's such a great play. I wasn't expecting that at all. It was definitely a fun moment. Something to look back and laugh at. But each time you get the win, it kind of makes those situations a lot more easy to come by, I guess."
Dillon seemed to enjoy being a lightning rod. It gave him that surge of energy that made him so hard to bring down. But now, at 40 years old, he just chuckles.
"My advice," he said, "is not to say anything at all. As a guy who did say some stuff. It's just easier not to say anything."
Hill seems to have figured it out. It sounds like Jackson and some of his mates already got to him because head coach Marvin Lewis said he didn't have to say anything to him.
"I really don't try to get involved in that stuff. That's really on you guys to kind of ramp up and do all that stuff," said Hill, nodding to the media. "I really try to stay out of that stuff. Obviously I got myself in a bad situation the last time after the first Browns game, but I try to stay away from that stuff. That's stuff is just distractions and stuff that's going to continue to get brought up when it really doesn't need to. So the more and more I stay out of that stuff, the better I'll be."
So far it's been pretty good. He's 123 yards away from becoming the Bengals' first 1,000-yard rookie rusher since Dillon in 1997.
"Really? That's a long time," Dillon said.
It's an uphill climb, with a Broncos nose tackle nicknamed "Pot Roast," and Dillon's old Bengals head coach, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, standing in the way. But Dillon says he's got it.
"I think he can get that in two games," Dillon said. "I know this, I'll be rooting for him. He just has to be patient. Patient, keep his focus, stay humble, and he should have a nice, long career."