BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals President Mike Brown is happy with the job Dick LeBeau has done in his first four games as coach. He's appreciative of the club's competitiveness, pleased with his own relationship with the coach, and aware it is the toughest of situations.
But while Brown won't comment on LeBeau's status for next season, the players can feel a difference since Bruce Coslet resigned Sept. 25.
"It's his team now," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes. "Just the respect he brings, him being a great player of the game. The eyes are the window of the soul. You know he means business. On paper, we're 1-3. But if you look at it as a fan, you can tell we're a totally different team."
With Chris Carter now in the lineup at strong safety in place of Cory Hall, LeBeau has inserted five different starters.
"He came in and he straightened out some of the things that were going on before," said running back Corey Dillon. "He's a no-nonsense guy. If you're not performing to where he wants you, you won't be in there. That kind of shook everybody up and got (players) to handle their responsibilities."
LeBeau says the club is inching its way to his vision of a strong running game and opportunistic defense. But he and Brown know they're a long way away.
"We've been in ballgames, but we' re not kidding ourselves. We know we're 1-6 and we're going to have to battle to win every game we play," Brown said. "Dick has a good attitude. The guys around here, no matter what happens, they stay with it. Upbeat. He wears well with players and everyone here. Everyone is rooting for him."
Brown is clearly unhappy with the state of the passing game. The Bengals leaped to second in NFL rushing, but are still dead last in passing.
"I believe we're getting closer to what I want us to be," LeBeau said. " I believe we have a long way to go. The most encouraging thing is the will to fight and compete in (the) spirit of this team. They are persevering and we're hoping to have better days ahead. But I think we're making progress (and) would I like to accelerate that, you bet."
SWEETNESS RECALLED: ** Bengals cornerback Tom Carter played with the late Walter Payton's Bears the past three seasons and has fond memories of the man whose record Dillon broke last Sunday.
"Walter was a very enthusiastic guy," Carter said. "I shook his hand a few times. He would come into the locker room and slap guys on the back and encourage them. He would wrestle around with them. Nice guy."
As Carter drove to work Monday, it began to hit him what had happened Sunday.
"There were guys in Chicago 20 years, 23 years later who were saying they played in that game," Carter said. "Now I'll be one of those guys. It was blessed. Corey took us into history."
Don Pierson, the long-time pro football writer for The Chicago Tribune, interviewed Payton in 1997 on the 20th anniversary of his 40 carries for 275 yards in the 10-7 win over the Vikings. He said Payton wouldn't be surprised of Dillon's deed.
"He was surprised he had the record as long as he did," Pierson said. "He had a few things to say about the way guys tackled today, that he would have had 400 yards. He had the flu that day and I remember him saying he was mad that the Bears won only 10-7."
LeBeau coached in that 1977 NFC Central Division as the Packers' secondary coach and spent a lot of hours trying to stop Payton.
"Payton was a great back. A little different style than Corey," LeBeau said. "They used him on the outside a little bit more. But where the two were similar, they were very strong. Walter's leg power was tremendous. He was a quick cutback guy who just kept driving. I think you saw Sunday a pretty powerful cutback runner who refused to go down. A lot of those long runs, he was hit within five or six yards of the line of scrimmage. So in that respect they are comparable."
THIS AND THAT: Quarterback Akili Smith still had a little numbness in his left arm after Sunday's hit on his neck, but he's expected to start against the Browns. . .WR Peter Warrick is probable with a shoulder bruise. . . Warrick's blocking has inspired receivers coach Steve Mooshagian to create a new category for his unit: Yards After Block. Warrick checked in with 153, many coming on Dillon's 65-yard touchdown run.
"From the moment the receiver makes contact until Corey passed him," Mooshagian said. "Usually Peter was coming in motion and his job was to search out the safety. Which ever safety came into the box, that was his assignment."
Mooshagian had Craig Yeast for 34 yards, including the big block on the cornerback when quarterback Scott Mitchell converted a third-and-eight with 3:20 left in the game on a naked bootleg: "He got the whole nine yards on that." . . .
Mitchell showed his appreciation Monday, and bought ribs for lunch for the offensive line and receivers.