By George, it's a horse race

11-16-01, 7:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Corey Dillon always looks forward to a game against Eddie George.

"Two Clydesdales," Dillon called them Friday.

Asked who is the better running back (George has more yards but Dillon has more yards per carry), Dillon shrugged.

"I don't know," he said. ""I think that's a great comparison. It's a great compliment to me. He's a great talent. It's going to be two great athletes going at it and he'll be ready. He'll be prepared. I'll be able to watch him."

The two have been together at the last two Pro Bowls and Dillon and George found out they have more in common than size, speed, stats and paychecks.

"We've spent some time together in Hawaii. We practiced every day together," Dillon said. "We're a lot like. He's a relaxed guy. He low keys it. He doesn't talk about himself at all. He's a video game fanatic like me. We both enjoy talking about the non-football stuff."

Dillon has always had high regard for George on and off the field ("Eddie's a great person to be around. He gives off great vibes just being around him. A genuine classy guy"), which is why it meant so much for him to be paid in the same neighborhood. That was the crux of Dillon's pitch for a new contract and when his five-year $26.1 million deal got secured in May, one of the most significant things to him was that the Bengals gave him more in the first year ($12.9 million) than George

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($10.5 million), and more in the first three years ($18.65 million) than George ($17.6 million), and nearly the same (George gets $27 million) for five years.

The similarities stretch beyond pay stubs and video games. The 6-1, 225-pound Dillon, 27, is on pace to become the sixth running back in NFL history to start his career with five straight 1,000-yard seasons. After last season, George joined Eric Dickerson as the only backs to rush for 1,200 yards in their first five seasons.

And if George is Tennessee's thoroughbred, then Dillon is the Bengals' steed. Cincinnati is 13-8 when Dillon rushes for 100 yards and 16-5 when he carries 22 times. The Titans are 24-5 when George runs for 100 yards and 24-2 when he carries 27 times.

"We're both big, we've got speed, and we try to run over you and away from you," Dillon said. "We do a lot of things that are similar."

The biggest difference, of course, is that Dillon has fullback Lorenzo Neal this year, the man George had the previous two seasons. A big reason why Dillon is on pace to gain 1,366 yards and George 888?

"I'll take that any day," said Dillon of Neal's presence. "That's only a plus for us."

Neal has been hesitant to draw comparisons, but he thinks Dillon might be a little faster and more liable to break a long one. George might be a little more powerful. But Neal knows they have the same competitiveness that makes them treat each practice like a game.

George has 6,874 yards in his career on four yards per carry. Dillon has 5,577 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. George is having an off year with 2.8 yards per carry. And Dillon isn't worried that he has 55 fewer yards on 25 more carries compared to last year's midway point.

"I'm not worried abut the stats, just the wins," Dillon said. "That's OK. I'm still in good position and I'm looking to get stronger for the next eight. Who knows? Those are still pretty good numbers. I think it shows we're running the ball more and it will come. We just have to take advantage of the situations when we get to run the ball. There have been points in the game when we can't run the ball and there's nothing you can do about that."

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WEATHER REPORT:** The Channel 12 weather gurus are calling for perfection Sunday, with sunny skies and temperatures reaching the low 70s.

SOD STORY: Corey Dillon's home track, the Paul Brown Stadium field, is getting a facelift. And the Pro Bowl running back figures he'll just tie his cleats and move on.

The stadium management company announced Friday that the middle of the field will be re-sodded after Sunday's game with grass from the S.W. Franks facility in New Jersey. Hamilton County expects S.W. Franks to provide the re-sod, a procedure that has already taken place in the stadiums of the Panthers, Bears, Cardinals, Chargers, Dolphins, Packers, Titans and soon in Pittsburgh.

"I don't care if it was concrete, I'm ready," said Dillon, who has always said about his stadium, "There's no place like home."

That's because he has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in a dozen PBS games that include six 100-yard

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efforts. That includes 215 on what amounted to frozen sand last December against Arizona. The NFL has informed the stadium manager the league doesn't want a repeat of last season's problems, when the stadium was forced to use a fragile Bermuda grass field, instead of the Kentucky bluegrass that is there now.

"I know what needs to happen," Dillon said. "I know what needs to be done to prepare to go out on a surface like that. It's nothing new. You adjust your spikes, go out there and see what you can do.

"That's an excuse, really," Dillon said of the field. "That's no excuse. You just have to go out and do what you do, regardless. You know the surface isn't going to be the best, so you go out there and do what you can do."

Earlier in the week, Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna shrugged off the possibility of new sod.

"It happens every year for teams that have natural grass fields that play in climates that change a lot from the beginning of the season to the end," Kitna said. "San Francisco, Green Bay, they have to do it all the time. They have to change out the middle of the field and all that. If that's something that we have to do, then so be it. I can put a little plug in for that stuff that they have at the University of Washington, that stuff is great. It never goes bad."

That's what Kitna played on while quarterbacking the Seahawks last year in Seattle. It's called Field Turf and is a combination of sand and rubber in which each blade has its own individual root. It's soft enough that players don't get turf burns and they can slide on it.

Eric Brown, the PBS managing director, said the grounds crew recommended re-sodding now because the cold weather forecast for New Jersey and Cincinnati next week makes it difficult to get the field ready for the Dec. 2 and Dec. 9 games against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.

Other factors were the re-seeding process that began earlier this week didn't take, as well as the NFL directive calling for a "safe and reliable field," for the three remaining games and a possible wild card playoff game Jan. 12.

CHAD IN DOUBT: Bengals rookie wide receiver Chad Johnson may not play Sunday against the Titans after coach Dick LeBeau got another look at him during Friday's practice.

"If we were playing tomorrow, he probably wouldn't go," said LeBeau, leaning to a game-time decision. "I'm not going to rush him if he looks like he's not ready to go."

Johnson, the Bengals' fastest receiver, hasn't played since breaking his left collarbone against the Browns

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Oct. 14. He's averaging 12.3 yards for his 12 catches, second among the regular receivers. After rookie T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Danny Farmer combined for their first nine catches of the season last week in Jacksonville for 107 yards, LeBeau is hesitant about using Johnson four weeks after suffering an injury that usually takes six weeks to heal.

But if he's able to play, LeBeau will use Johnson as the third receiver with starters Darnay Scott and Peter Warrick.

"Chad is getting better every day," LeBeau said. "We've got a lot of depth at that position. "

Every other Bengal besides left guard Matt O'Dwyer, who is out with a sprained knee, looks to be available.

In Tennessee Friday, Titans quarterback Steve McNair didn't practice for the third straight day with a severe bone bruise on his throwing thumb. He did some soft toss, but said he had pain when he took some snaps from Bruce Matthews. He's still saying he'll play and after going through the same dance about McNair's status last year, LeBeau doesn't doubt it.

"Get out the same CD and play it again," LeBeau said. "He'll play. I looked at that video (of Monday night's game in Tennessee) and I watched every ball he threw. At no time was there any velocity off his ball. He might have some discomfort. I'm not saying that, but there's nothing there to keep him from playing."

Safety Blaine Bishop (foot) will make the trip to Cincinnati, but the Titans don't expect him to play.

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