10-3-02, 8:35 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
In a season he has been the only thing standing between the Bengals and oblivion, Corey Dillon, is about to strap it up again to try and find the running room that has eluded him all season.
His Bengals play a Colts team Sunday that could be mistaken for a traveling Hall of Fame exhibit. Peyton Manning is the quarterback and Marvin Harrison is the possession as well as the speed receiver, and you better believe Dillon has wondered what life would be like if he, and not Edgerrin James was their running back.
"Dude, you don't want to know how many times that has crossed my mind," Dillon said Thursday. "Do they or do they not have a Pro Bowl quarterback and wide receiver? But I'm not (with the Colts). So it's a thought. That's all it is."
There are other thoughts from the franchise's newly-minted all-time rusher amid the team's all-time worst first month:
For instance, there are rumblings that the easy-going Bengals need a drill sergeant for a head coach instead of the laid back Dick LeBeau. That it should be Paris Island at Paul Brown Stadium instead of Kings Island. Dillon isn't shy about standing up to his teammates.
"Regardless if a drill guy is in here or somebody else, you're paid to do your job," Dillon said. "You're getting paid. That should be motivation enough. You shouldn't need anybody to tell you that. I don't need anybody n my house to tell me I've got to get up at 7:30 to get down to Paul Brown. I already know. I don't know what (other players) need, but I know what the Cincinnati Bengals need and that's a win."
Other thoughts from the leading rusher AND leading receiver on the NFL's worst scoring offense:
"I will never buy into being a loser, or settling for less and being an underachiever," said Dillon of the national jokes. "All I know is we have to pick it up around here and get after it. If not, get the heck away from the dinner table. From here on in, it's put up or shut up."
Dillon is the most volatile player on the NFL's most frustrating team and yet he is drawing praises from the coaching staff for his stability amid the turbulence. He says he's got no second thoughts about signing a five-year deal before last season, but he also says, "They've got to get it right."
"He has been rock solid through this time in terms of his leadership," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "His attitude and his presence as a leader are going to be helpful in helping us get out of it. He hasn't wavered and that helps the other players not waver. He's really been rock solid."
Which is just about right. On Thursday, Dillon wore one of his, "The Lord is My Rock," T-Shirts that come from one of his favorite Biblical passages as he called on his teammates to match the execution with their talent.
"This isn't the worst. I've been through worse here," Dillon said. "2000 was worse. I know we're a better team now. That's the difference to me. To me, personnel-wise we've got the best talent in the league. For some reason, it's not getting done. It's the execution and putting the talent together. That's the most frustrating thing. Having the talent and not performing."
Dillon takes a pass on critiquing management, an offensive scheme that has produced an average of 12 points per game since Bratkowski arrived in 2001, and an underachieving offensive line.
But everyone knows the problem.
He looks at the 3.9 yards per game Rams running back Marshall Faulk is averaging for a dormant pass offense.
"And they've passed the ball like nobody around and are a threat to pass it and the greatest player in the game today doesn't have many yards," Dillon said. "You could have a back who is a combination of Bo Jackson, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and throw in Walter Payton and that guy isn't going anywhere with nine men in the box."
Dillon has had a worst four-game start. It was in 2000, when he had 192 yards on 63 carries in a year he ended up with a career-best 1,435, thanks to his NFL-record 278 yards against Denver. He's now at 243 on 70 carries, eighth in the AFC, and is looking for his 10th 100-yard game dating to that Oct. 22, 2000 game against the Broncos.
Meanwhile, the Colts' James is looking Sunday to extend his streak to 11 straight home games with at least 100 yards, a run that began on the same day in 2000. But because of James' injury that cost him 10 games last year, only Stephen Davis has more yards than Dillon over the past two seasons and only Davis, Faulk, and Curtis Martin have more yards than Dillon over the past three seasons.
"I'm here for a reason," Dillon said. "What the reason is, I don't know. But I'm here for a reason. God put me here for a reason. I've asked him to show me the plan. I can't believe he would put me in a situation where I would be in a position not to be productive, not to succeed, not to excel. That's not my God. I don't think he would do that.
"I've learned lessons being in this program," Dillon said. "Dealing with certain situations. Just humbling myself, I've learned a great deal; But I also want that winning feeling."