Dillon speeding into '01

3-30-01,

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Corey Dillon needs 1,554 yards to become the Bengals' all-time leading rusher. But the question is, just exactly which uniform will he be wearing when he goes for his next 1,500?

At the moment, Dillon isn't talking about his free agency status.

In fact, Dillon is acting and talking like a Bengal when he says, "My goal is to help lead this team back into contention and put us back where we belong."

But he is talking about getting to those 1,554 yards quicker than he got last year's 1,435.

"Speed and endurance. Mainly speed," said Dillon Friday of his off-season checklist to improve his game. "I want to get in the low 4.4s (seconds in the 40-yard dash). Right now, I'm about 4.48."

Dillon stopped by Paul Brown Stadium to shoot baskets Friday and then revealed he wants to shoot the moon when it comes to next season.

"I'm not where I want to be at yet. Not by a long shot," Dillon said. "I want to be the best and I'm far off. I still want to get faster and quicker. I've got size, power. And my speed has been upgraded from fair to good."

Dillon smiled slightly over that.

Last year the Bengals didn't think he had breakaway speed and he went out and led the NFL with a dozen runs of 20 yards or more with Jacksonville's Fred Taylor and Denver's Mike Anderson.

They also wondered about his endurance after he missed parts or all of five games in '99. Then he went out and not only started every game this past season, but didn't miss even a stretch of a game while lugging the ball a career-high 315 times.

"No one can say anything about my skills, "Dillon said, but he does remember the days he was positively glacial.

About once a week he pops a tape into the VCR that shows his games. His favorite is the 246-yarder against Tennessee when he set the NFL's single-game rookie rushing record in 1997.

"I look at them to see what I can do to get better, but that game is so fun to watch because we could do no wrong," Dillon said. "The holes were as big as I don't know what. That game does show I was too damn slow. I was getting caught from behind. It's a great motivator to go out and work on my speed."

Dillon works on his speed by stretching, strengthening his lower legs, and running in weighted shoes. And with the incentive to be the NFL's best running back.

"Marshall Faulk is the best. The most complete in catching it," Dillon said. "I'd say I'm in the top five," but he insists he can also catch the ball. He caught just 18 in a season every starting back in his division but Jerome Bettis had more receptions.

"You have to throw it to me," Dillon said. "I can't catch the ball if it's not thrown to me. There's no question about my catching ability. I can line up as a receiver right now and I'd be fine. I'd be more than fine. I don't think there's anything I can't do."

If he sounds confident, it's because he is. If it's one thing Dillon has proved, it's that he can improve by dint of work. When he came into the league, he could only carry the ball in his left arm. It wasn't a big thing, but look what happened last season when he became comfortable switching the ball to his right arm.

"I'm able to do some things with my big left hand," said Dillon of the league's most feared stiff arm. "It's one of the things I started doing when I went to work on my game. I started switching it in practice and now it feels natural and instinctive."

Just ask Broncos cornerback Terrell Buckley, who got stiffed by Dillon on his 41-yard touchdown run last season that gave him the NFL's single-game rushing record with 278.

"The only thing I'm thinking about is getting better," Dillon said.

Dillon, who has spent the bulk of the offseason living in Cincinnati, is keeping mum on his situation.

Cleveland says it may be interested after the draft. Two teams who could be interested – the Eagles because of Duce Staley's injury and the Raiders because they are the Raiders _ deny interest.

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