11-6-03, 9:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon, the Bengals' war horse the past six seasons, admitted Thursday he can't do the things that have made him a Pro Bowler three times and the club's all-time leading rusher until his injured groin is fully healed.
Dillon, who has missed two games and parts of two others in the weeks since jarring the groin Sept. 21, said he won't play again until the injury is "100 percent," healed and he doesn't think that's going to happen by Sunday against the Texans.
But he did say it is improving and invoked the image of the champion horse Seabiscuit when asked if he could be back in a few weeks in time for a December stretch run.
"Seabiscuit was out for a little bit, then he came back and did his thing," Dillon said. "It's a point of being smart about it. It's muscle, a muscle takes time.
It's not like some little rinky-dink injury. You can't do too much. Every move irritates that groin area. Let nature take its course, chill out, and let it heal.
"Don't get me wrong. It's getting better. Extremely better. But it's getting it right," Dillon said.
Dillon, who has rushed for 64 yards on 29 carries in the games following the injury, had thought as late as a few days ago that he could do it hurt. But not now.
"Not for what I want to do," Dillon said. "I like to play with reckless abandon and crash into people. (At) 85 percent, am I better than most people in the league? Probably so. But 85 percent (isn't) cutting it by my standards. I've got to be full tilt in order to accomplish what I want to accomplish."
Dillon said he wouldn't fight the team putting him on season-ending injured reserve ("They can do whatever they want") but he also thought he could contribute once he's better. After gaining just five yards on seven carries last week in Arizona, he thinks his seventh straight 1,000-yard season is out of reach at 792 yards shy with eight games left. P> "It's been done.," Dillon said. "Haven't you seen what's going on? I'm not even concerned about that, man. I'm going to saddle back up, I'll get mine when I get it. I'm not worried about it. My main thing is getting my groin right.
WEATHERSBY READY?:** Nickel back Artrell Hawkins (knee) didn't practice Thursday for the second straight day and remained questionable. Starting corner Jeff Burris (concussion) returned Thursday and is probable. But with strong safety Rogers Beckett (abdomen-probable) added to the injury report, could the Bengals be looking to make more cornerbacks active Sunday against a pretty decent three-receiver team in Houston? And could that mean fourth-round pick Dennis Weathersby, the much-heralded but never-seen cornerback from Oregon State, be in line for his first activation?
If so, head coach Marvin Lewis isn't saying, although he has told him to be ready to get a call any week. Yet on Wednesday, he didn't exactly ring the endorsement for him.
"Nothing is holding him back. He has to beat somebody out to get to play," Lewis said. "His development is great. As soon as you are good enough to play for us on special teams, then you can play. If you can't play on special teams, and beat somebody out there, then you're really not much good to us."
Asked if that meant his development hasn't been as good as expected, he said, "It's great. But until you get an opportunity to do it and go show you can do it, then you haven't done it. Again, I see better than I hear."
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (doubtful) has a chance to play for the first time this Sunday. He worked his tender hamstring some in practice on a wet field.
FOLEY RETURNS:** Texans outside linebacker Steve Foley hasn't taken a snap from scrimmage yet this season and he isn't scheduled to take one Sunday. But that doesn't mean he has shelved the idea of making a big play against his old teammates at Paul Brown Stadium because he says he'll be on every special teams play.
"Of course you think about it. You'd like to do well against all your old friends," Foley said this week from Houston. "I never really understood what happened. I would have liked someone to have told me why, but I understand it's a business. You get a phone call early in the morning, you go back to sleep, wake up a few hours later, pack, and you're gone.
Foley's release on Cutdown Day was part of the snapshot that revealed new Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' business-like approach. Even though the Bengals gave Foley a $3.1 million in bonus and salary to sign a four-year extension during the 2001 season, and even though he was named the starter at left outside linebacker going into training camp, he ended up on the market when Lewis jettisoned him in favor of Adrian Ross.
"That was one of them. That raised some eyebrows," said Ross of Lewis' memorable last cut that included a starter in Foley, a first-rounder in Reinard Wlson, and a second-rounder in Lamont Thompson. "He sent a message that if people aren't producing. . .Yeah, it was what the team needed. He's saying the same thing now during the season. No one's job is safe."
But Ross looks like he's holding on to his post because the Bengals like the young backers playing behind him. He is fifth on the team in tackles even though he's not playing in the nickel package and he has forced
two fumbles, the most recent one representing the only turnover the Bengals forced last week in Arizona. Ross is Lewis' kind of guy, a college free agent who knows how he got here and who has missed just five games in six seasons.
"It's how my whole career has gone," said Ross, who makes his 28th start Sunday. "I always don't show up on paper. I don't have a big name and I'm not a guy paid a lot of money ($850,000), but I end up playing."
Some thought that Foley missing the last 20 regular-season games with injuries and then missing time this past spring and training camp with back and muscle problems did him in.
"I don't think I had a problem with that," Foley said. "I think they wanted to go in a different direction. And some of the (moves) are risks. A guy like Lamont Thompson is a heck of a player and he's doing well in Tennessee."
Foley, 28, had no problem getting a job, signing with the Texans two days after he was cut. But he's backing up a solid player in Kailee Wong in a complex 3-4 system that stresses his spot rush the passer from the ends. With Foley drafted by 3-4 guru Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati and Lewis employing some 3-4 principles similar to Texans head coach Dom Capers, both LeBeau colleagues in Pittsburgh, it wasn't a bad fit.
"I'm lucky in the sense that it's pretty much the same system I broke in with when I first got to Cincinnati," said Foley, a third-round pick in 1998 who started 10 games on the strong side before LeBeau switched to a 4-3 defense late in the 1999 season. "There are some differences and there are some things I have to adjust to, but I think it's a good fit for me because I like going after the passer."
Foley signed a one-year deal and would like to extend things, but it may depend on how games like Sunday go.
"You know I'll be trying to make some big plays," Foley said.
SHARPER OBSERVATIONS:** Texans linebacker Jamie Sharper has played for both head coaches in Sunday's game. He was on the Ravens defense Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis coordinated to the Super Bowl title three seasons ago and now plays for Capers, the former Steelers defensive coordinator when Lewis was the linebackers coach.
Lewis says Dom and Karen Capers are still good friends with his wife Peggy and their two children.
"Dom is probably a big part why we're having this conversation. He was very helpful to me as a coach when I came to the Steelers and working with him and for him," Lewis told the Houston media this week of how Capers prepared him to be a head coach.
"He just taught me this game and how to approach it, how to go about it, how to game plan, how to break the opponents down and everything that way. As detailed as Dom is about everything--yet, he can do that and be so personable about it. His detail and his way that he is don't make you feel uncomfortable. He can get along with everybody that way and just was outstanding."
Sharper can see the similarities in strategy and style.
"They're defensive coaches. They want their defense to win games. They want a ball control offense and they want to try to play as conservative as possible and not have any turnovers," Sharper said. " They would like their defense to go out and make plays and put your offense in a position to win. They're both great defensive coaches and they know how to get their players to go out and play well. They're great motivators and are able to get their team ready.
"The main thing is his preparation," Sharper said of Lewis. "He has a lot of energy and he goes out there and prepares his team and himself for the whole game. He does things on both ends. He gets the guys to study harder and work harder."
Lewis has also been looking at some familiar tape even though the Bengals play a 4-3 and the Texans have retained the 3-4 from Capers' days in Pittsburgh and Carolina.
"I think it is very, very similar. I think that's what made Jamie (Sharper)'s transition into their (Houston's) defense very easy," Lewis said. "A lot of the principles and the things that I built upon in Baltimore, even though we were basing out of a 4-3 (defense)--our general principles of how we defend things are very similar to the things that I learned from Dom, from Bill (Cowher) and Dick (LeBeau). And the way we did things in Pittsburgh I was able to take over to Baltimore and eventually it sunk in and people understood it and we got it and we did it and away we went."