Dillon seeks self-improvement

1-2-02, 10:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals running back Corey Dillon plans to get better this offseason. He hopes his offense does, too.

Dillon hates the excuse. The reason the Bengals' offense improved just two spots from No. 29 last year to No. 27 this year with one game left is because of the installation of a new offense. And shouldn't it click easier next year in the second season for the system?

"To be honest with you, I don't know," Dillon said Wednesday. "Been saying that for a long time. I'm just waiting for it to pay off. Something has to break."

There are grumblings the running game has become too predictable. Too off-tackle oriented in a division that gives rush yards like they gave Oliver Twist gruel. Maybe there needs to be more counters and against-the-grain trickery.

But Dillon, the team's unquestioned MVP again, wants no controversy to chase him into the offseason like the dastardly eighth-man-in-the box that has haunted him this season. The 5-10 record has seemed to anger him and energize him all at the same time.

Dillon says he's not paid to X and O and he says any scheme questions should be forwarded to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. All he wants to do after Sunday is take a break from the pounding and the disappointment ("for a long time,") and get to work on improving his game.

"I'm going to work on a little bit of everything," Dillon said. "There's a lot of room for improvement. I'm not satisfied with where I'm at."

This from a guy who already has career-highs in carries (318), touchdowns (11), touchdown catches (3) and has tied his career best with 31 catches.

And on his 12th carry Sunday, he'll become the Bengals' all-time leading ball carrier, passing Pete Johnson's 1,402 attempts.

"Getting (career-high carries) is no big deal," Dillon said. "It's what you do with those carries. Did I think I was productive carrying the ball? Yeah. A lot of elements I had to deal with this year? Yeah. By far. Yeah."

Dillon shakes his head at the 544-yard effort last week against the Steelers. Both intrigued and frustrated. He sees hope from 141

yards rushing against the NFL's No. 1 rush defense after not breaking 70 yards per game from Nov. 11 to Dec. 9. As well as the 411 yards passing that can free him from the box.

"I do," said Dillon when asked if he thinks there is enough offense here. "We can't be sporadic. We can't show up here, don't show up here, show up here. We have to stay consistent. If we stay consistent. What we did last week, we have to do that week in and week out. That's the bottom line. I think so. No doubt in my mind. Just being consistent with what you're doing."

In the new offense, the Bengals' went from No. 2 in rushing last season to 18th this season. Although Dillon heads into the season finale just 58 yards out of third place in NFL rushing with 1,228, he's got just 3.9 yards per carry, .7 below his career average after the 2000 season of 1,435 yards.

Dillon won't criticize the pass offense. Instead, he says he'll work on his pass catching. And he didn't make the Pro Bowl for the first time this century Wednesday, but he saluted the winners while mourning a five-year career won-loss record of 23-56.

"That's the most upsetting. The win column," Dillon said. "Everything else doesn't matter. What do I do? Come here and play for stats? I could do that, but I 'm not going to get anywhere doing that. This is a team sport and my main focus is going out there and winning. And we didn't win this year and that's a disappointment to me. Anything else, I'm not worried about. Stats. Pro Bowl. Big deal."

The Bengals once wondered if Dillon had that temperament, the breakaway speed, and the hands to be an elite all-around running back. After this season, Bengals President Mike Brown saw it all.

"What didn't he do this year?" Brown asked. "It was probably his best all-around year. He did everything. He's been something to watch."

"He'll be better next year because he's been better every year," said running backs coach Jim Anderson. "He wants to be the best player on the field. Look what he did this year. He stayed on the field on passing downs and got some big scores for us through the air."

Dillon rested Wednesday. The whole 318-carry body is sore. Not to mention the sore right pinky he dislocated two weeks ago in New York and aggravated late in Sunday's game, the one that drove him out for most of the last 15 minutes.

"Pain, ball security," said Dillon of why he came out. "Blitz protection. I use my hands on a lot of things. It was painful and I didn't want to jeopardize (the game)."

About then, quarterback Jon Kitna walked by Dillon's locker and put his sprained middle finger on Dillon's swollen pinky to compare.

"Aww," Dillon mugged. "Buddies."

It has been a painful season for Dillon. But he has been fun to watch.

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