5-2-03, 3:10 p.m.
5-2-03, 8:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Running back Corey Dillon assumed his role as chief executive of the Bengals' offense Friday after spending the night at his Loveland home he calls "Camp David." It's the first time the Bengals' all-time leading rusher has been back in Cincinnati in the Marvin Lewis administration and he looked to be a fit 230 pounds and a bit thicker about the neck as the Bengals went through their first workout of the weekend minicamp.
"I had to do some dusting off around Camp David, but we're getting it back together," said Dillon, assuring Bengaland there is no rust on his body after working out diligently at his offseason home in suburban Los Angeles. "I've been lifting. I work out every day. I wake up and go down into my little training room and go at it. People think I was at home doing nothing and I was actually doing something."
Dillon proved to be a more-than-willing ambassador for the new cabinet that has taken control since he has been out West. At Lewis' urging, Dillon consented Friday to meet the media, a group that he has always treated warily and suspiciously and one he had pretty much shut off last year at midseason.
Just last month, Dillon had exploded at media reports portraying his absence from minicamp as a major news story and a slap in Lewis' face. One of the many reasons the story made headlines is because Dillon was the only Bengal who didn't respond to Lewis' first call to a voluntary minicamp.
As late as Friday, Lewis called it "much ado about nothing," and quarterback Jon Kitna said it wasn't an issue in the locker room. But Lewis also said, "Corey is one of our best players and to have him here and his presence here is a good thing for our football team. He has to begin getting back into the offense again and getting around his teammates again and moving forward."
And it was also significant Friday that Dillon took the blame for not informing Lewis in time about his family obligations.
"It was miscommunication," Dillon said. "Me and Marvin discussed it and in the future it will be handled in the appropriate way. . .I had to spend time with my family,
I told them kind of late, and left them kind of hanging a little bit, which I take full responsibility. In the future, it will be handled in the proper way.
Dillon bristled at the speculation he was trying to engineer a trade or force the Bengals to draft a running back.
"If they had drafted a running back, they would have lost a lot of money because he never would have got off the bench to play in front of me. I've got plenty of gas left," Dillon said. "But I don't make the moves around here. I just carry the pill. I never had a problem with Marvin. He's my guy. Dude, I'm not looking to go against the grain here."
If there was ever any doubt he was not on Lewis' ship that is about to set sail, Dillon dispelled them with the ease of a career diplomat. As Lewis stood in the back of the news conference room, Dillon was asked about him and he smiled. "He's right here, so he's my man," and Lewis laughed and said, "I better leave."
Kitna said it would have been nice to have every player here three weeks ago, but he also didn't think it was an earth shattering event. Running back Brandon Bennett appeared to be the only player not at this camp because of a wedding.
"He's been ready every year, at the start of the year," Kitna said. "He never gets hurt, you always know what you're going to get out of him. And he didn't miss anything. (The running game) is the same since he got in the league. To those guys in the locker room, non-issue. Did anybody just feel like he's turned his back on the team or something? No, not at all. It's not an issue as much as you guys think."
Last season's grim black cloud seems to have cleared over Dillon's face, which can set off fire sprinklers when things are going badly. Dillon didn't like where the team was headed last year, but he said Friday, "You don't see it? Everything. The weight room. From head to toe. The atmosphere around here, I've been here six years going on seven years and I can sense a difference around here."
Dillon likes the more intense, more up-tempo practices ("That's the way it has to be because that's the way they play the games,") and says he realizes how important it is to be here with his teammates. He handed the team an A-plus for its draft. He said all the things he was supposed to say, like all good ambassadors.
But before he went back to Camp David for the night, he reiterated what he has been saying under his two previous coaches.
"That's my goal, to win a Super Bowl," Dillon said. "There's nothing I wouldn't do to get there. That's why I' m here. I'm working hard, just trying to reach my dreams."
Kitna felt some comfort when the Bengals' offense went on the field for a move-the-ball session. Quarterback Akili Smith threw a touchdown bomb to wide receiver Chad Johnson, and on the next play Dillon bolted off tackle for a 10-yard gain or so before he was touched.
"You're talking about one of the premier players in the league, so when he's not there, it's a difference," Kitna said. "More than anything, that's our security right there as far as our team. Knowing that when you're in a bind you can give it to him."