Dillon drills field, doubters

9-22-03, 9 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals all-time leading rusher Corey Dillon's streak of 51 straight starts, third longest among active NFL running backs, is in jeopardy. And, he's blaming the Paul Brown Stadium grass for taking him out of Sunday's game and maybe costing his team a victory over the Steelers.

Dillon, questionable for Sunday's game in Cleveland after straining his left groin in the second quarter against the Steelers, said head coach Marvin Lewis also has concerns about the field

"We're on the same page," Dillon said. "When asked if Lewis can grow grass, he said, "I think Marvin can grow grass. I'm pretty sure he can get something done about the field."

Lewis had no comment Monday, but it's no secret the Bengals have been toying with moving to the next generation synthetic surface for a few years now. And Dillon's $26 million declaration, coupled with how those new fake-but-real grass fields work this year in Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, could make the decision easier.

According to a turf consultant's interpretation of the list in the "2003 NFL Record and Fact Book," 11 teams have the new grass-like synthetic material, 17 have grass, and four still have AstroTurf.

"It might be something worth looking into," Dillon said. "If it was in better condition, hey, I would have been in the game and we probably would have won? Who knows?"

But for the moment PBS is taking aim at improving the field for the next home game, which is in 27 days against Baltimore. Stadium manager Eric Brown responded to Dillon's comments in a statement released through the Bengals' public relations department.

"Improvements since last season include hiring a well-respected head groundskeeper and utilizing more aggressive maintenance techniques," Brown said. "Similar to other NFL stadiums that are in a northern climate, we have replaced the field as necessary with new natural grass. But we are not satisfied and we will continue to take steps to address the issue. It is our expectation that the playing field will be much improved when the Bengals host the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 19."

Meanwhile, during a busy Monday afternoon, Dillon also went after whom he sees as critics who have suggested the wear and tear of seven years in the NFL have caught up to him after he has missed major portions of the last two games with different injuries he calls "minor," and unrelated.

"Let's get it straight. I've been doing this for seven years. Anybody else in my position who has been out here busting his tail for seven years, they probably wouldn't be on their seventh year. Let's not get this twisted, " Dillon said. "I'm healthy. I'm fine. Minor injuries here and there. Believe me if it takes away from who I am and how I play, then I'll retire tomorrow. But that's not the case. When I'm in there, I'm effective. I'm getting yards.

"I'm still fresh. I still feel like I could do this for a long time," Dillon said. "If that crept in anyone's mind, they need to get their brain checked."

Lewis called Dillon "questionable," and Dillon said he would have a better idea Wednesday if he can go after rest and treatment. Dillon says he's never had a history of groin trouble. The last game he missed was the 1999 season finale with a left knee strain.

Only Tennessee's Eddie George (115) and the Jets' Curtis Martin (78) have more consecutive starts than Dillon among backs in the league .Next on the list at 35 are San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, Miami's Ricky Williams, and San Francisco's Garrison Hearst. Dillon, who turns 29 next month, is younger than Hearst, Martin, and George.

Dillon, who indicated he'll play this Sunday ("Don't ever count me out. It's doubtful I won't play"), loves playing in Cleveland's new stadium. Since it opened in 1999, he's had three 100-yard games there in four tries. He had 34 yards on 14 carries in the opener, but came back with 71 yards in the first half in Oakland before hyperextending his knee and carrying just three times in the second half.

If they don't think I can do it and I think I can do it, something is totally wrong," Dillon said. "Sorry you feel that way. This guy can still do it. This has nothing to do with my ability. It's freak accidents here and there. Someone fell on my leg in Oakland and took me out of that one. The field was crappy and took me out of that one."

Dillon and some of his teammates aren't pleased with the field and Lewis has listened to their concerns.

"I've got respect for the ground crew, but that's not acceptable," Dillon said. "That field was awful. Just terrible. It could be worse. I could have torn something.

"Go back and look at some of the cutups and see how big the chunks of field are coming up when people are planting and cutting," 'Dillon said. "The field was like a 12th man out there."

Dillon said at times it looks like someone is mowing the grass when feet are moving and the turf is flying. There is speculation that Peter Warrick slipped on some loose grass as he was about to break a punt last Sunday.

"Interesting," Dillon said.

Right tackle Willie Anderson agreed that the field has caused some problems and may have been a factor in his hamstring injury in the opener, but he also acknowledged he got hit as his leg gave way.

"It's coming up a lot easier," Anderson said of the grass. "It's not a lot of sand, but there's some kind of goo. I walk up to the line and you can see some holes. But it's certainly not an excuse why we're losing. I'm not saying that. You asked me a question."

The Bengals hired Darian Daily, the former groundskeeper for the Columbus Crew, earlier in the year to help a field that has struggled since the stadium opened in 2000. The original bluegrass field died in a drought and the Bengals had to use the more fragile Bermuda grass for that first season.

It's still a sand-based field, but they switched the composition from 90-10 sand-to-clay to 80-20 sand-to-clay. In the third year, they tried some synthetic lining for the roots, but did away with it last year. The reason for the sand-base is it drains better than clay fields.

Dillon said he strained the groin on his sixth carry of the game with 10:30 left in the second quarter of the Steelers' 17-10 victory over Cincinnati last Sunday. He said as he cut to the left behind right tackle to shake a defender, the grass went out from underneath him on a play inside linebacker Kendrell Bell made the tackle after a six-yard gain.

About a minute later he gained a yard on his final carry and left with 26 yards on seven attempts.

"There's 13 games left," Dillon said. "Why risk hurting it even more?"

Lewis said he expects backup running back Rudi Johnson (thigh) to be ready this week after not dressing for the first three games. He also thinks wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) is going to miss this Sunday, and he didn't sound confident about tight end Matt Schobel (hamstring) after he also left in the first half Sunday.

Asked if the Bengals would have won if he had carried the ball 30 times the past two weeks, Dillon didn't want to say because "I don't step on anyone's toes," but, "if I get 30 carries in any game, it could be a big game."

Dillon has been able to carry it just 26 times the past two weeks because of the injuries, but even before the injuries the Bengals have had trouble giving him the ball consistently the past year or so, mainly because of the score. Ever since he carried 30 times for 138 yards against the Titans last Oct. 27, he hasn't had more than 23 carries in a game.

"Interesting," Dillon said on an interesting day at PBS. "I only run the plays, I don't call them."

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