7-30-02, 11:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Barring a quick recovery, the Bengals' offensive brain trust just doesn't see Michael Westbrook being back in time from his broken left wrist to contribute much in the regular-season opener. Or even by Week Two.
But running back Corey Dillon, the one guy who could truly use a big-play passing game, tells Bengaldom, "Look for good things from the passing game.
"We've got about 10 (receivers), don't we?" Dillon asked after practice Tuesday. "Like they said. They don't expect him to miss that much time. . . He's going to come back and he'll fit right in. I don't think it's a big deal."
Dillon is the first to tell you, "I'm sick and tired of seeing nine and 10 guys in the box. I'm too old for that," and "one man isn't going to do it. I know I can't." But as Dillon held court with the media for the first time since training camp opened, the upbeat Pro Bowler reflected the optimism that
has marked this camp despite Westbrook's injury.
"Everybody has a good feel for each other and that's cool. That's very cool," Dillon said. "The atmosphere around here is good and positive and it's been positive for the last two years. And that's what it's going to take to get us over the hump. I think everybody is out here with one common goal and that's turning this thing around."
Dillon doesn't see a window of opportunity closing on the core of his team in 2002. He simply sees it as another shot to be like the 1999 Rams, 2000 Ravens, and 2001 Patriots, teams that reversed losing seasons or .500 seasons into Super Bowl titles in just one year: "Every year is fair game."
Dillon had virtually no interest in this week's "USA Today," survey that named him the second richest man in the NFL in 2001 with $15 million ("in the neighborhood") that included his $10.5 million bonus. What interests him is a Super Bowl ring, which he calls "that crown on my finger.
"I'm not going to rest until that happens," he said, "It may never happen, but I'm going down swinging."
If Dillon matches his career total of 6,209 yards (the 12th-best five-year start in NFL history) over the next five years he'll move ahead of Jim Brown into sixth-place on the all-time rushing list with 12,418.
"I really haven't done anything," Dillon said. "I'm not up there with any of the greats. When all is said and done, I want to be in the fold somewhere. (Stay) on pace and win a couple of rings. . .I'd be very happy and satisfied if that happened."
Dillon also predicted that No. 1 draft pick Levi Jones will become a great player in a few years at left tackle and that his offensive line hasn't received the ink it deserves.
"I've been going for 1,000 yards each (season) and it all starts up front," Dillon said. "Those guys get it done week in and week out and I don't think they get enough credit. They (should) get the majority of the credit for what I'm doing out there."
Dillon plans to reward his line for its work in 2001 like he did after his NFL record game in 2000 with cash envelopes and his 1,435-yard season in '00 with designer watches.
"No hints," Dillon playfully scolded when he was pushed on the next gift.
Playful. That's the word at this camp for a guy who is usually pretty serious and tends to carry himself like the way he plays. With glowering intensity. His moods swing with the Bengals' record.
But not now. He's been sunnier than a central Kentucky drought.
"You'll know," said Dillon with a laugh when asked when the other Dillon might appear.
HAWKINS SEEKS SPEED:** If anyone is going to play hurt on this team, it's cornerback Artrell Hawkins. It will be recalled that last year he played with a mangled shoulder on passing downs in the season finale even though he was 60 minutes from free agency.
But Hawkins tried to go here Tuesday after sitting out Monday, and the sprained posterior cruciate ligament in the back of his knee hasn't responded the way he would like. Saying, "Clearly he's not ready," trainer Paul Sparling has decided to put Hawkins back on a rehab program and back off his
practice time. Hawkins decided to bow out of the practice when he couldn't stay with the receivers because of his lack of speed.
"I'm able to go side to side, but I can't run all out straight ahead," said Hawkins, who suffered the injury May 22 in a voluntary workout. "It's not there yet. I'm going to take it day-by-day with the focus I'm not going to be out there just to be out there, but out there so I'm effective."
There's a chance Hawkins won't work in Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage, giving Kevin Kaesviharn the start at right corner.
"If I play in the scrimmage, it's a good way to get started and be ready for the preseason," Hawkins said. "But if I'm not, I don't think it's necessary, either."
Sparling expects CB Rodney Heath (ankle) and LOLB Steve Foley (hip flexor) to return Wednesday in limited fashion. ROLB Takeo Spikes (hamstring), DE Reinard Wilson (groin), RB Rudi Johnson (infected big toenails) and DE Vaughn Booker (general rest) took the day to rest ailments.
BRAT CAUTIOUS: With wide receiver Michael Westbrook unable to catch a ball with his broken left wrist for three more weeks, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski isn't anticipating Westbrook being much of a factor in the first two weeks of the regular season.
"It's T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) and Chad (Johnson) at his spot until we see where Michael is," Bratkowski said. "If he doesn't have a lot of practice, he's going to be limited what he can do. He had a long way to go to get in sync with the quarterbacks and all that. We have to wait and see, but if he doesn't get a week and a half in, it's going to be real hard to use him extensively."
Westbrook underwent successful surgery Tuesday morning at University Hospital to repair his broken navicular bone with a screw.
AKILI'S DAY: Bengals President Mike Brown has been pleased with the work of No. 3 quarterback Akili Smith. He says he's been more decisive and less confused than in the past, but Smith was down on himself after getting just 15 snaps Tuesday. He had wide receiver Peter Warrick wide open across the middle, overthrew him, and kicked the air in disgust.
"That throw to P.Dub put me in a bad mood," Smith said. "Today was the first day I pressed. Of course, you press when you don't get many snaps. I can't afford to miss any. I've got to go 12-for-15."
THREE's A CROWD:** Bengals President Mike Brown doesn't envision the club keeping all three kickers on the roster. Which means fourth-rounder Travis Dorsch and 2000 sixth-rounder Neil Rackers have to outkick the other guy if they want to join punter Nick Harris.
"You'd like to think your field-goal kicker can kick long enough on kickoffs and both our guys can," Brown said during Tuesday's practice. "We need to get to NFL normal or better and we haven't been there for a couple of years now."
The first leg of the competition is
Thursday night under the lights here at Georgetown College in the first of four night practices. The idea is that the lights and a bigger crowd than usual will come as close as you can get to simulating game conditions.
Until then, the kicking will have been on an informal basis and the company line is that the decision will come down to how they do in the four pre-season games.
But nothing is informal in a roster competition and Rackers has served notice he won't give up his job easily with some impressive bombs. Still, team officials insist the two have looked pretty even. Brown disputes the notion that Dorsch gets the benefit of the doubt because he's a draft pick.
"Rackers looks very good and so has Dorsch," Brown said. "Rackers got drafted, too, if that matters. What really matters now is what each can do. I look at it from the other side of the coin. Which is we ought to be able to fill a need adequately."