Dillon takes hits head on

7-28-03, 4:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Corey Dillon may be mad at himself, or his coaches, or Delta. But instead of taking it out on a gate agent or a flight attendant, Dillon saved his wrath for the Bengals' defensive backs during Monday morning's first practice of training camp.

"C.D. was mashing everybody in the mouth," said wide receiver Chad Johnson.

Dillon, who has used his forearm rather liberally in rushing for more yards in the past four years than anyone in the NFL except the Jets' Curtis Martin, waved it around Monday like it was the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium.

Despite arriving eight hours late from his hometown of Seattle Sunday night, he looked eager to deliver some of the shots that have given him more yards than anyone in the NFL the past three seasons except the Dolphins' Ricky Williams.

Of course, it's expected that head coach Marvin Lewis is going to mug him for a $5,000 fine for being absent from training camp, and Dillon, the team's highest-paid player, took that hit head on, too. He thinks Delta ought to be fined for keeping him off the plane.

"If they're going to fine me, fine me. Quit talking about it," Dillon said. "Get it over with. Let's move on. It's not like I'm going to be missing $5,000 anyway. It's no big deal. Fine me, let's keep it moving."

Lewis said the incident was nothing big and that it was time to move on. But it may not be lost on him that a Dillon absence overshadowed the first day of his first voluntary minicamp back on April 11 and Sunday on his first day of training camp. Lewis used words like "disappointed," and "unfortunate," yet in the end it appeared to him like a guy just flat out missed his flight.

"He got to the airport late, they wouldn't let his luggage on the plane, so he had to take another flight," Lewis said. "Obviously he has a lot of luggage now."

Some would call it "baggage," but while Lewis may not appreciate his watch, he loves his style of play. And Dillon said he didn't think he had to, but he indicated he apologized to his teammates.

"Corey's been great. He's excited to be here," Lewis said. "That's the kind of style we need to have. We're asking him to take over the leadership and

assert himself as one of our best players and take the responsibility that goes with that. He's excited about that. There's got to be something that keeps him going out here every day. Obviously nothing new is going to happen at Georgetown that he hasn't seen before, so he has to have something to go out there and battle against each and every day to keep his spirit."

Dillon said it won't happen again, but he insisted he tried to reach the staff Sunday to say he was delayed.

"I'm a man when stuff like this happens. I've got to step up," Dillon said. "I said I wasn't trying to disrespect the coaches or the players or trying to send any messages, or what not."

Dillon and Lewis have been talking throughout the offseason and their latest conversation came last Friday when he called Dillon to talk about when and where he wanted to handle the media during training camp. Dillon continues to insist he has bought into Lewis' program.

"It's going to be a great year," Dillon said. "I think we've got a ton of talent and we've got some great coaches, and there's no reason we shouldn't be winning ball games."

Dillon took note of Lewis' longer practices (two hours and 15 minutes compared to between an hour and 45 minutes or two hours) and the heightened intensity.

"Everybody is in top-notch shape," Dillon said. "It's a little more physical than last year. We might as well do it. That's how the game is played, you might as well do it in practice. You noticed (the longer practice?) But we need it. In order for us to get where we need to get, some things have to be different."

Safeties Marquand Manuel and Lamont Thompson ran into some early stiff arms, but Dillon said he was just reacting.

"They're a little active right now," Dillon said. "I've seen them button up with a couple of tight ends and what not. I just said, 'Hey, I want a little contact myself, so I gave a little and took a little and that's how practice goes."

But Dillon made sure he didn't stiff arm anybody at the airport when employees insisted he couldn't get on the plane for security reasons.

"You know the situations in airports nowadays, you have to respect it," Dillon said. "I tried to call the coaches and let them know the situation. I didn't get an answer, so I tried to get here as quick as I could."

Dillon called Paul Brown Stadium, but everyone was here. And Dillon figures he's here now because he kept his cool. Asked if Delta saw "The Savage," he predicts he will be this season, he shook his head, knowing an altercation could have landed him in jail.

"I had to tone it down. I could have been somewhere else," Dillon said with a laugh. "I'd rather have missed the flight than been in that spot. That's a whole different story."

Cornerback Artrell Hawkins said Dillon's late arrival didn't offend his teammates.

"We weren't surprised, we were just wondering where he was," Hawkins said. "He made it for practice. It's not like he came here a few days late."

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