Browns cautious on Dillon

BY GEOFF HOBSON

INDIANAPOLIS _ If the Cleveland Browns plan to pursue Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon in free agency, new head coach Butch Davis' poker face belongs in Las Vegas.

"I don't know. We're looking at everybody," said Davis Friday here at the NFL scouting combine. "We're going to look at every avenue that would give us a chance to build a winning team. We're not going to target any one specific person. Just look at a little bit of everything."

Recent reports have the Browns backing off Dillon when the bidding starts a week from today. Davis appeared lukewarm, but maybe it's all part of the plan to go after Dillon hard.

Davis did get irked when asked why he appeared hesitant at trying to add Dillon to the running game that finished next to last in the NFL last season.

"I didn't say there was hesitancy," Davis said. "I just said we haven't decided what direction we're going to go."

That direction may steer away from Dillon and into the path of University of Mississippi running back Deuce McAllister, a player the Browns are seriously considering taking with the draft's third pick.

The 6-1, 220-pound McAllister gets the idea Davis and his offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, are looking for an every-down, receiver-type back in the Edgerrin James mold. And McAllister says he has the versatility to do it.

James played for Davis at the University of Miami and Arians at Indianapolis and both coaches like the idea of splitting out their backs as receivers to create mismatches.

Dillon, a 225-pound power back, isn't used very often by the Bengals on passing downs or as a receiver. Although they haven't exactly tried to throw the ball to him consistently.

"Ideally we want a complete guy," Davis said. "We want somebody that you don't have to take out of the game. Ideally in a best-case scenario you don't have to do running back by committee if you don't have to. Running back by committee can work for awhile, but eventually you have to have that one guy.

"He's there every down. First, second, third down. Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James. Those type of guys."

Asked if Dillon fits his offense, Davis said, "Potentially. He's a good player."

McAllister's down side is injury and the Bengals would actually take a long look at Auburn's Rudi Johnson and Texas Christian's LaDainian Tomlinson before rolling a Deuce. If Dillon left.

McAllister has hurt both

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** shoulders the past two years and started just six games this past season. But he also says this is about as healthy as he's been and he comes out a year after Tennessee's oft-injured Jamal Lewis was durable enough to rush for 1,364 rookie yards.

McAllister is keeping an eye on free agency, particularly Dillon.

If Dillon left, "obviously I think (the Bengals) would think of taking a running back in the draft," McAllister said. "They've done a good job in the last couple of drafts with Akili Smith and Peter Warrick. The talent is there. I think it's just a matter of getting on the same page."

Bengals coach Dick LeBeau reiterated Friday he thinks the Bengals have an excellent chance of matching a deal for Dillon. But he admitted if Dillon left, the draft focus would shift.

Davis gave no clues about where the Browns are leaning in free agency with room under the salary cap that nearly matches the league-leading Bengals.

Davis allowed his club is looking for help everywhere and would like to get four to six free agents, but he didn't want to put a number on it. He also isn't sure if they would be signed starting next week or after the June 1 date when teams can release players and get more salary cap relief.

"We're not going to sign guys for the sake of signing guys," Davis said. "They have to have a specific role. They've got to help us get better. They have to be a starter, have a huge impact as a back-up player, or (be) very valuable to us on special teams."

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