Dillon likes what he sees

7-19-01, 11:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

SEATTLE _ There was a time when Corey Dillon said the Bengals were bad, he meant exactly that.

But this is Bengals Training Camp 2001. Otherwise known as Camp Contentment instead of those past editions known as Camp Cantankerous.

Indeed, the world seems upside down.

Yes, first-round draft pick Justin Smith is still unsigned. But he's the only player not in the fold yet.

There is no ugly veteran holdout. The players are actually publicly endorsing the head coach. Dillon is actually going to report on time to training camp Friday.

And bad means good.

"From what I know right now, the Bengals are bad. I like all the moves they made," said Dillon as he enjoyed the last few days of freedom before heading to Georgetown College.

"Any move is a positive move," Dillon said. "All the people they acquired

did nothing but help us."

Dillon is suddenly a relaxed two-time Pro Bowler heading to camp with a five-year contract as the richest player in team history. Instead of a young running back on the make, bewildered why his team wouldn't lock him up long term and exhausted by the losing.

Like last year, when he held out for three weeks before signing a one-year $3 million deal. When he then managed just 82 yards in the first three games, some teammates suggested he started slowly because of the holdout.

"I don't know about that," Dillon said. "I think we were all struggling so much on offense as a whole that it was hard for anybody to get off to a fast start and play well."

It's the first time since 1997 that the best offensive player from the year before (Boomer Esiason, Carl Pickens and Dillon) started practicing when the team did.

But with the rush offense climbing to second in the NFL in the last 13 games, Dillon thinks new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowksi's playbook will give the passing game a lift.

"I think we're stronger on the defensive side," Dillon said. "The only problem on offense was consistency here and there. (Dillon's contract) is part of the puzzle. They went out and signed a stackhouse fullback (Lorenzo Neal).

"I think the (passing) game is definitely going to pick up," he said. "Because of the scheme and because if someone isn't doing the job, someone else is going to go in there who is going to get it done."

Dillon comes to Georgetown convinced his team is better than the one that went 4-12 and scored a franchise-low 185 points.

"By far, by far," Dillon said. "Quantum leap. Let's put it this way. I don't see why not."

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