Daylight at end of running

8-24-03, 8:45 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals seemed to have silenced the panic-button people with the way they ran the ball Saturday night. Against a Titans' defense that finished second in the NFL defending the run last season, they averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the 23-15 loss.

Running back Corey Dillon racked up seven carries in the first quarter for nearly five yards a shot with 34 yards as the Bengals hit 120 for the game. But it wasn't so much the numbers, it was the way they did it as the Bengals seemed to spread out the Titans with formation.

"?We always have felt like we match up pretty well against Tennessee. I think we posed some problems philosophy-wise for them, with the way that we try to spread the field out, and create creases and such," said quarterback Jon kitna. " Every time we play Tennessee we go up and down the field"

The line got the point of emphasis during the week when Lewis arranged his practice schedule so the Bengals could improve on their three-yard-per-carry average. It helped that Dillon more than doubled his carries for the entire preseason.

"The line did a good job and I took advantage," Dillon said. "I'm glad I got some work. I took some shots and was able to just tune it up a little bit."

"It's great having Corey in there," Goff said. "He's like everybody else, he needs his reps, too. He's a bruiser back. . . he turns a one-yard gain into four."

The Bengals made no bones about establishing the run on their first series. In their first drive, six of the nine plays were runs with Dillon getting four carries, one more than he had all preseason. The other two went to rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson, who moved into the first group in this game ahead of Chris Edmonds, and backup Brandon Bennett.

"I think we did a better job of executing," said Lewis with a bit of a wry chuckle. "We'll continue to work hard. We always emphasize the running game; it just became news last week."

Despite the running game, Kitna was forced to complete four throws to convert on third-and-six or longer.

"Traditionally, we've been getting eight-man fronts because people have said, 'We'll take Corey away and make the passing game beat us.' We have to do a better job in the passing game. We can't keep putting ourselves in third-and-seven. Those are defensive downs. We have to make better plays in the passing game on first and second down. The goal was running the ball and establish the running game, and we did."

BLITZES AND BOUNCES: For the second straight game,, the Bengals' defense didn't force a turnover and you know that doesn't sit well in Lewistown.

"(Turnovers) comes from knowing what you're doing and beating them to the stop, and they come in bunches," Lewis said. "You go a long way sometimes and you don't get any, and you've played pretty good but we need some. That's gonna help us. Tennessee isn't a big turnover team. (Starting quarterback) Steve McNair takes care of the football and obviously (backup quarterback) Neil (O'Donnell) does, so you go, and this is going to be a little tougher — (starting running back) Eddie George doesn't fumble the football a lot, so when you play a team that doesn't have a lot of turnovers ... we need to create some."

The secondary is still looking for its first interception of the preseason. Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy has the only one. . .

The Bengals have punted just three times in the last two games, but Lewis won't say if that's enough to make a call between Nick Harris and Travis Dorsch before Friday's pre-season finale in Indianapolis: "Stay tuned." . . .

WARRICK OF OLD: Wide receiver Peter Warrick returned from a one-game absence Saturday night in vintage ' 03 form. A week after attending his grandather's funeral, he put the Bengals on the board with a leaping 15-yard touchdown catch in front of Titans cornerback Samari Rolle, and added a 27-yard run off a shuffle handoff on a reverse. Quarterback Jon Kitna threw the big block.

"That's who I follow. I follow Kit and he

was there for me," said Warrick, who is carrying about 10 pounds less than last year. "They're getting the ball to me more. I just got inside (Rolle) on the post. Did I jump? I don't remember that."

Kitna remembers what Warrick used to do in his previous three seasons. Maybe round off a route or make a wrong read. Not now.

I " told him after that touchdown play, that a year ago that probably would not have happened. That was a play where the DB couldn't have played it any better," Kitna said. "Peter pretty much went flat, when it calls for a forty-five degree angle. That was a great play. He also reached out and caught the ball out in front, where the guy couldn't knock it down. That is maturity. After you play in the league, you understand that the difference between a touchdown and not a touchdown is sometimes that extra two inches that you reach out to catch it, instead of catching it close to you. He is becoming the receiver that everybody is saying he hasn't been."

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CLOSE HIT:** Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson took a hit too close to home in the rsyt half Saturday night. It looked like Johnson had just caught a 21-yard pass from Jon Kitna at the Titans 10 to convert a third-and-long. But Johnson's cousin, Titans cornerback Samari Rolle, drilled him with an ESPN pop that shook the ball free for an incompletion.

"He asked if I was all right and I told him I had a little headache. He got me in the head," Johnson said. "I think what happened is the ball got tipped at the line because it took a long timed to get to me. I was waiting on it and I could see him coming."

After the game, Rolle told Johnson he had heard of his goal for a 1,800-yard season.

"He said he saw me for 1,500 after watching me play," Johnson said. "But he wouldn't give me a reason. He ran into the locker room before I could ask him."

O-LINE PARADE: The Bengals are definitely checking out all their options on the offensive line. Even though the first group ran the ball the best they have at any point in the preseason, head coach Marvin Lewis later reverted to two-thirds of last season's interior by moving center Mike Goff to right guard and bringing Rich Braham off the bench to play center to start the second half. And, after the first two series, Braham went to center and Alex Sulfsted got a shot to play left tackle.

"I don't know what," said Goff, when asked if he sensed the coaches wanted to put him back at

guard. "They just said they wanted to try and look at us at different positions. It was great for me to brush up at guard, I hadn't played it in awhile and it's important for me to still remember."

Lewis offered no clues on what he was thinking.

""We want to make sure we have the right guys in all the time, and make sure we're playing the players that need to be out there, and we have the right combination of guys," Lewis said.

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