4-11-03, 10:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon turned on ESPN and couldn't believe the media mushroom cloud enveloping his absence from this weekend's Bengals' voluntary minicamp.
"They made it out like I'm some kind of monster," Dillon said Friday night from suburban Los Angeles. "They should look up voluntary in the dictionary. I volunteered to be with my family this weekend and if anybody there thinks anything is more important than my people, they better talk to me. If it's mandatory, I'm there."
Marvin Lewis chose not to take on Dillon publicly after his first two practices as the Bengals' head coach, saying the team would move on. But after talking to Lewis a few times on the phone, Dillon said he has no problems with the new coach, likes what he's doing, and he had no intention of sending management a trade message by not showing up.
Yet the reaction to him being the only starter not to appear at all the sessions of Lewis' first camp has him fuming about what he feels is excessive scrutiny of his actions.
"I've got no gripes with Marvin Lewis," Dillon said. "If I wanted to be traded, don't you think I'm bold enough that I would have come out and asked? This has nothing to do with Marvin or the Bengals. This is about me and my family and I'm sick and tired of people always trying to get in my business. Those people need to get a life because I'm living mine."
After participating in the Bengals' offseason program in Cincinnati the last two years, Dillon said he felt it was important to spend this one with his wife and daughter in California. For those criticizing him for not being with the program, he asked, "Where was everybody the last two years when I was in there sweating my butt off and there were just 10 people in the building? I mean, what's more important than your family?"
His teammates seemed unconcerned because as quarterback Jon Kitna said, "He'll be here when it counts. No, I don't think it will be a problem."
Linebacker Adrian Ross is close with Dillon and he's convinced he isn't sending a message. Since Dillon keeps himself in excellent shape (he gained a career-best 1,435 yards despite not appearing until three weeks before the 2000 opener), Ross doesn't see a problem.
"We're working towards a goal and he's a big part of it," Ross said. "He knows that. I know he works because he wouldn't be where he is now. I don't think it's a big deal."
Ross also thinks along with the family obligations, Dillon is thinking about the wear and tear he faces for a seventh season: "He runs the ball and there is a lot passing in a camp like this."
There have been rumblings for months that the Raiders, with the last two picks in the first round, would be a good match for a Dillon trade. But the only way the Bengals could handle the salary cap hit for such a trade would be if Dillon gave back the pro-rated part of his $10.5 million bonus from the five-year, $25 million-plus deal before the 2001 season, All indications Friday were that wouldn't be happening.
Dillon said he's preparing to play for Lewis and the Bengals, yet he made it clear he's upset with the media scrutiny. He said it's a major reason he feels like he has to get away from football for a long time in the offseason.
"I wish people would just get off my back," Dillon said. "I wish they would just leave me alone. I'll be there smoking for the mandatory. Smoking mad."