8-21-02, 3:50 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon isn't looking for a 100-yard game Saturday night. Backup Rudi Johnson, who used to collect them like pocket change, wouldn't mind another one.
"I'm not trying to get 100 yards. I'm just trying to make some hits and get back in the swing of things," said Dillon this week as he prepares to make his 2002 debut against the Saints Saturday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Dillon, fresh off a visit to the doctor to check out his refurbished knee, pronounced his legs in the best shape of his six years in the NFL. He has amassed 6,209 yards in his first five seasons, the 12th-best five-year start in NFL history, and on Saturday he starts attacking the second five years that can take him into the company of the all-time greats. And he does it in the friendly confines of a stadium where he has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in 16 games.
"I'm a little hungry, a little anxious," Dillon said. "But at the same time, I'm just trying to get some work and make a few runs to get my timing down."
Johnson is just trying to make the team, although he may have already after becoming the first player in Bengals history to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games in the preseason. But then, that's running an errand for a guy who broke Bo Jackson's record at Auburn for 100-yard games in a season with 10.
"That was real special," Johnson said when asked to cull a favorite from a list of records longer than a Top 40 countdown. "He told me, 'Anybody who broke my record (has) got to be good.'"
Johnson, and fellow backup running back Curtis Keaton, may have been good enough in the first two weeks to draw interest from other teams. Bengals President Mike Brown confirmed Wednesday there have been trade inquiries about some of his players, but he wouldn't say which ones.
Plus, Brown didn't sound like he wanted to get rid of one of his backup runners, which the Bengals would
have to do to carry the traditional five running backs on the roster.
"We kept them all last year and they all do something," Brown said.
What Johnson is trying to do on one of his first carries Saturday is set the Bengals record for rushing yards in a preseason. With Dillon 239 yards shy of James Brooks' club record, everyone figured at least one Bengals' rushing standard is going to go down this year. But Johnson is just nine yards from the 212 Keaton ran for last year in a four-game preseason.
Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan believed he unearthed the all-time record when he discovered Boobie Clark ran for 216 yards in the 1975 preseason that was seven games long.
"Of course," said Johnson when asked if it meant something. "It's positive. Anything that is positive has to mean something."
Here's a guy who knows a record when he sees one. He's the career rushing champion for his high school in Ettrick, Va., and junior college in El Dorado, Kan., and in his one year at Auburn he set the school record with 324 carries.
The only record he didn't get at Auburn was Jackson's 1,786 yards set in 1985. But he did get to keep company with one of America's few legitimate sports legends. His relationship with Jackson began when Bo returned to Auburn to visit during the 2001 season and checked out his competition.
"Bo's a friend of mine," Johnson said. "We hung out a little bit, talking to me about different stuff about the game. I talk to him every now and then on the phone."
They spoke most recently a few months ago, when Johnson said Jackson gave him "his NFL speech."
"He told me what they expect on and off the field," Johnson said. "Keep your nose clean off the field and on the field give it 110 percent."
Which is basically how Dillon has done it. One common thread running through his best seasons, which have been the last two, is that he didn't carry the ball until the preseason's third game. In 2000, it was because of a holdout. The last two years, it's been because of some nicks. This year, he has had a sore foot, and he's coming off arthroscopic surgery that cleaned out his knee
"I hate it, but it works," Dillon said. "Yeah, I'd like to play in every pre-season game. But the last two years, it showed. Late in the season, I've been a lot stronger. But at the same time, I'm always anxious to play."
And play at PBS, where in two seasons he has seven 100-yard games. While others careen around the field starting in November, Dillon shrugs and keeps going.
"I guess its home-field advantage. I'm used to it," said Dillon, an all-weather guy from Seattle. "At the start of the season (the field is OK). Halfway through the season, when we put some wear and tear on it, it gets a little slippery. I'm used to the rain and the mud and the nasty, wet slippery stuff."