6-11-03, 7:15 a.m.
6-12-03, 8:20 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Marvin Lewis told the crowd at practice the other day that running back Corey Dillon comes as good as advertised. He hasn't dropped a pass this spring and he told him his moves and cuts have reminded him of the old Seattle running back Curt Warner.
Dillon, vowing to play like a "savage," this season, has been just as supportive of Lewis. He says the new head coach has turned Bengaldom from night into day, and Lewis' talk of turning games into fourth-quarter games of attrition with Dillon as his hammer sounds good.
"If that's the case, there's only one man for the job," Dillon said. "We match up real good. He's my comrade. Whatever the coach wants me to do. If he wants to be (a) down-hill, smash-mouth, kill anything in sight, that's what I want. I'm getting the vibe off Marv that he's got the killer instinct. He's going for the jugular."
But Dillon hopes one thing remains the same. He hasn't played in the intrasquad scrimmage since 1999 and when he's had his best three seasons the last three years he hasn't carried the ball until the third pre-season game.
"For what? I'm not out to prove anything," said Dillon of the scrimmage. "Freak things can happen. . .We've got some running backs who want to showcase their talents and I'm being out there? (Not playing) Keeps me fresh. I kind of like what I've been doing. I just want to smell it, I don't want the whole pie."
There will be some running backs on display this trip with Brandon Bennett's disc problem a question heading into camp. They like the looks of former University of Cincinnati back Ray Jackson and his ability to catch.
By the way, the Fox Network's long-awaited profile on Dillon in their "Beyond The Glory," series is scheduled for Sunday, June 29, at 8 p.m. Dillon said they began work on the segment shortly after his NFL-record 278-yard game in 2000, and he's wondering what they've been doing nearly three years later. He shook his head when he heard one reporter had a tape of the show and another had the script.
"Story of my life," he said.
ALL IN THE (FOOTBALL) FAMILY: There are about $40 million reasons why the Bengals don't plan to give Shane Matthews more snaps in practice than Carson Palmer.
And Matthews understands all that because maybe the most important thing he took from his father is the head sitting squarely on his shoulders.
While Shane quarterbacked Bill Matthews' 1987 team to the Mississippi big school Class 5A state title, the father had a simple rule. If there was to be any talking about the opponent, the game plan, or mechanics, they would get in the car and drive to Pascagoula High School.
"It was only about a mile drive from the house," said Bill Matthews the other day, now retired, after a morning of sailing on the Gulf Coast. "We didn't talk football around the house. I wanted him to enjoy other things. I wanted him to grow up just like the other kids."
And he did, except not many grow up to be a 10-year quarterback in the NFL. Especially after not getting drafted. In fact, how many guys grow up, get in the NFL, and end up lockering next to a guy who played for your father at the same place decade after you did?
That's what Shane Matthews discovered last week when second-year cornerback Reggie Myles looked at the nameplate next to him and saw the most famous football player to ever come out of Pascagoula in the last 15 years. Well, maybe it's a tie between Matthews and cornerback Terrell Buckley.
"And there's me and Mario Edwards, so that's four (NFL) players from a pretty small town," said Myles, who comes out of a high school of about 2,400.
It was out of this highly-charged football environment that Shane shaped his "big-picture" view of life, the one
he added to the Bengals' quarterbacks mix when he signed a one-year deal to back up Jon Kitna, mentor Carson Palmer, and come out of the bullpen early in the year to make sure the season doesn't get out of hand with the competent play that has given him a 11-11 record as a spot starter in the league.
"I don't even know the names of the linemen, yet," said Matthews after Monday's first practice of minicamp. He didn't even have time to call them by the names on the back of their jerseys because ever since he got here he's been consumed by learning the offense.
"I'll get it by training camp," Matthews said.
Of that Bill Matthews has no doubt. And he thinks his son will pass it on to Palmer.
"Shane's an intelligent guy and a good teacher. He'll be good for Palmer," Bill Matthews said. "He's very calm. He was always calm as a kid. I was like everyone else. If he threw an interception, I was right there at him trying to figure out what happened. But he'd give you the explanation and that was it and we'd move on."
The son had a grasp of things even before his junior year in high school. That's when Bill got an offer to move from the smaller 4A Cleveland High School to go to Pascagoula. Shane already had the quarterback job for the next two years in Cleveland, but he urged his father to take the job even though it seemed to be a longshot he would play at the bigger school.
"He could see the whole picture," Bill said. "He knew it was an upward move for me and it did open things up for me in my career."
Shane also knew it would be a step up for him in baseball and basketball, which at that point was more important. As for getting the No. 1 job in football, he said, "Well, I did," and Bill recalled, "I didn't make that decision. I left it up to my other coaches.'
Myles' brother played with Shane and Bill remembers him as a player who had similar skills to Buckley, a player heading into his 12th NFL season who played on the state championship team with Shane.
"One of the only real differences between Buck and Reggie is Buck ran something like 4.2 (seconds) in the 40," Bill said. "Reggie didn't have the people around him that Buck did when they were here and we were probably unfair to Reggie by asking him to do so much. He's a very good cornerback."
LAST CALL:** The Bengals have their final two practices of the three day mandatory minicamp Wednesday. Coach Marvin Lewis indicated he might give the veterans a break in the afternoon workout, but not the rookies. On one of the last plays of Tuesday's workouts, quarterback Carson Palmer threw an interception right into the arms of defensive end Duane Clemons that would have been returned for a touchdown.
"I think Carson needs some more work in the blitz drill," Lewis said.
A rookie's ups and downs are just one of the reasons why 10-year veteran Shane Matthews thinks it's a good idea Lewis has made Jon Kitna the starter: "If you've seen rookies just thrown into the fire. With Peyton Manning, he struggled, David Carr struggled. It takes them awhile to get going. I think it will be good for him to sit back and learn."
BENNETT HURTING: The Bengals are now officially concerned about valuable backup running back Brandon Bennett's back. Bennett has just returned to working out after nearly two months on the shelf. He hasn't been cleared to work in the last two minicamps, but after taking some epidurals, he thinks he'll be ready for the first practice of training camp.
"A little bit," said Bennett, when asked if he's worried. "Usually by now I'm in shape, and where I want to be as far as lifting, but now I'm behind so I have to catch up. I've just been able to start running and working out now."
For the past month, Bennett has undergone every test imaginable, from MRIs to skeletal exams. But he says everything has been negative and the understanding is it's nothing major. The position of a disc is simply causing a nerve to inflame and he says the numbness in his leg now isn't as constant once he has started taking the epidurals, and he'll get another one Wednesday.
"The tough thing was I couldn't do anything because I needed rest," Bennett said. "My muscles got weak and I think that put more pressure on my back because it was weaker."
JET LAG: Not exactly a European vacation for Bengals linebackers Dwayne Levels and Tito Rodriguez. They returned to Paul Brown Stadium for physicals Tuesday morning and got some snaps in the afternoon practice after Monday's 12-hour sojourn from NFL Europe.
Both played for Barcelona (Rodriguez at middle linebacker and Levels at strong side) and after the final game in Germany, they bused two hours to the airport for a flight to Chicago and a connection to Cincinnati only to get a 7:30 a.m. wakeup call Tuesday from director of football operations Jim Lippincott as they grappled with the six-hour time difference.
The first thing Rodriguez noticed when he arrived was the renovated weight room ("Whew") and Levels could sense the change in intensity just from watching on the sidelines. It was such a whirlwind morning that Levels barely noticed he had been given Akili Smith's locker, prime real estate as the first one on the left walking in the front door.
"The tempo of practice is quicker, you can tell that right away," Rodriguez said.
He has no regrets about the decision to go play in Europe even though he has missed the installation of a new defense. Plus, he and Levels figure to be farther down on the depth chart now that Kevin Hardy has been signed for the middle, Khalid Abdullah has been drafted for depth on the right side, and Armegis Spearman and Riall Johnson are healthy.
But Rodriguez enjoyed the opportunity playing for former NFL player Hugh Green.
"He was one of the coaches for the linebackers and I leaned a lot from him," he said. "He was good with a lot of different things. Techniques. Riding off blocks, pattern reading. To me it was a good experience because I got 10 games under my belt and it's hard to get that game experience. I'm glad I did it."
The Bengals have one player left in Europe with cornerback Tierre Sams of the Rhein Fire set to play in this Saturday's World Bowl against Frankfurt. Sams, a college free agent from last season out of Fresno State, has been playing off and on for the Fire.
ROOMIE REUNION:** ESPN analyst Tom Jackson caught up with his old linebacker partner and roommate in Denver Tuesday when he spent some quality time with Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley.
They spent two years together as Hunley began his career and Jackson ended his in 1984 and 1985 on Joe Collier's famed Broncos' defense. Hunley said Jackson taught him more than football, but Jackson said he knew Hunely would be as good coach because, "He was a middle linebacker. . .He had to know more than I had to know. I was just a blitzer."
Hunley arrived in Denver in bizarre fashion. The seventh pick in the draft, Hunley held out from the Bengals and got traded. But Jackson said they had no problems accepting.
"We had the utmost trust in our defensive coordinator," Jackson said of Collier. "He was one of the all-time greats on the football field and if Joe wanted him, we wanted him."
Jackson's cohorts at ESPN have made the Bengals a punch line down through the years, but Jackson saw it for himself Tuesday.
"The thing that was the most impressive about this practice," Jackson said, "was even thought it was in shorts, it war run at a high tempo.
"(Coach Marvin Lewis) is doing the right things," Jackson said. "I know from watching him work in Baltimore they will be well prepared with attention to detail. The toughest task he has here is getting the belief they ought to win. With that mentality and understanding you think you're going to win when you go out and play. Once that happens, he'll be a hugely successful coach here. . .I know Coach Lewis' expectations will be high. If the coach is happy, you get both happy."