Dillon's timely debut

8-23-01, 3:15 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ After letting his returning offensive linemen know they will all soon be receiving designer Locman watches, Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon is set to make his timely 2001 debut.

It's the home opener Saturday against the Bills and Dillon carries the ball for the first time since he decided to make Cincinnati home for the next five years when he signed the richest deal in franchise history back in May.

He's also supposed to be working overtime compared to his last few seasons. New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has pledged to throw more to the Bengal backs. After dropping just one ball this training camp, Dillon is supposed to stay on the field for third down.

"If that's what they want," Dillon said, "that's what I'll do."

Dillon started in Detroit two weeks ago, but you could have timed his outing with an egg. He played the first two snaps, when the Bengals ran plays as far away as possible from him.

"The only thing that's different is the money, nothing else," Dillon said when asked what the fans

will see differently Saturday. "I'm still the same. They'll just see me going to work."

It sounds like head coach Dick LeBeau is going to make him work. He wants Dillon to get more than two carries and if it takes more than two series to get him eight or so, look for Dillon to play much of the first quarter.

"About time," Dillon said. "I'm looking to get my pants, pads, everything dirty."

Dillon damaged his own wallet recently with the purchase of the watches to honor the linemen who helped him to a franchise-best 1,435 yards last season.

Rolexes? Maybe not. But right tackle Willie Anderson thinks Dillon bought some invaluable team chemistry.

"I don't know if the wife would have gone for Rolexes, but they're nice watches," Dillon said. "It's what I wear. It's the thought that counts. These guys would have liked it if I got them cards. It's in appreciation for what they did for me last year.

"Yeah, it was just the guys from last year," Dillon said. "The rooks are going to have to wait until next year."

Anderson says the watches are "on the same line as Rolex, a great watch," and he should know. Dillon conferred with Anderson on what to give the guys.

"It's the first time in my six-year career here that someone has done something like that for me," Anderson said. "We've had some great players around here who had a lot of great individual stats and this is the first time. He came to me and said, 'What do the boys want?'"

Dillon has been talking about how he wants to catch more balls and LeBeau's eyes have been opened the past few weeks. LeBeau told offensive assistant John Garrett the other day that he didn't think Dillon had dropped much more than one ball all camp.

Garrett sifted trough the computer and came up with one drop and two weren't catcheable.

Dillon has always maintained if they throw it to him, he'll come through. Last year, he had a career-low 18 receptions for the NFL's worst pass offense and his career high is just 31 catches.

But look at these numbers. When Bratkowski coordinated the Seahawks in 1997, Seattle's running backs committee caught more than 90 balls. When Ricky Watters arrived the next season, he caught 52.

"It's a simple philosophy," Dillon said. "They throw, I catch. They throw, I catch."

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