12-15-01, 7:35 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Corey Dillon is just 75 yards from making history again and he's inconsolable.
That's not to say 1,000 yards is a tawdry, made-for-TV stat that means nothing. He is about to become just the sixth man in history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.
"It's meaningful, but it's not satisfying," said Dillon, who is surprised he has that much. "It's a bittersweet type of thing. If we were winning, it would be something to enjoy. I'm not going to rest until I'm in the Super Bowl. It feels like I'm on pace for a brutal season. I'm amazed I've got decent numbers. It could be a lot worse."
Even though Dillon hasn't rushed for 100 yards in five straight games. . . Even though he hasn't rushed for more than 79 yards since busting for 184 on Oct. 28 in Detroit. . .Even though he hasn't had a run longer than 19 yards since the day he gouged the Lions on a 96-yarder. . .
Dillon is still on pace to rush for 1,233 yards, his second-best ever after last year's 1,435. And fullback Lorenzo Neal is urging the Bengals not to give up on the run.
"My thing is, if we're going to lose, I'd like to lose with the ball in the hand of No. 28," Neal said. "At least I can sleep better at night if we're going to lose like that.
"I'm disappointed, actually," said Neal, even though he's about to enjoy a fifth straight season blocking for a 1,000-yard back. "I really believe he can have a 2,000-yard year. People say that's rare and unheard of, but CD is rare and unheard of. Anytime you've got a back with his breakaway speed. I'm totally disappointed. A thousand yards is above average, but Corey is a lot better than above average. We've got to do a lot better for him and I include myself in that."
Dillon, Neal, and right tackle Willie Anderson thought he would have a lot more than 925 yards by now with a lot more than four wins. And they're surprised that eight running backs reached 1,000 yards before him, not to mention five in the AFC. Not to mention that he's running fourth in fan voting for the three-man Pro Bowl berth, led by Jerome Bettis (1,072 yards), and Curtis Martin (1,140 yards). Dillon trails LaDainian Tomlinson (1,007) by about 75,000 votes with 149,517.
"I'm not concerned about that," Dillon said. "I've been twice. I'm not out until they say, 'Hey, such and such is there,' and I'm out. I know I'll make it some other year. Like I've said before, this (conference) is loaded with backs, so don't feel bad if you don't make it. They're doing a good job. They've got the numbers and I don't."
For the first time in his life, Dillon isn't averaging four yards per carry (he's at 3.7) and says, "I'm not qualified or paid to sort out what's wrong. I'm here to run the rock."
other seven players and let Dillon worry about the safety.
"I don't care what they have in the box. Corey is good enough to handle that. We have to stay on our blocks," Neal said. "I don't think the safety is all the time making the tackle. Everyone has to stay to stay on their blocks. He'll beat the safety more times than the safety gets him because he's just too tough.
"The safeties don't want to see him everytime," Neal said. "We've got to make our blocks. We've got to know who to block, when to block them and how to block them. That's the problem. We've got to get some push. I include myself in all this. I'll take my chances with Corey going against the safety."
Anderson, who along with center Rich Braham has blocked for Dillon all five years, is looking for the long runs that have eluded him the last five weeks.
""They're daring us to beat one-on-one coverage in the passing game," Anderson said. "The safety is making the guy re-route his pattern and running to the crowd of people and he's blitzing a lot of the time. We're still pushing for four, five yards, but you've got to get that great back 20- to 30-yard runs."
Still, Anderson feels it's an accomplishment for Dillon to join Martin, Tony Dorsett, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and Eddie George in beginning their careers with five 1,000-yard seasons. That's two Hall-of-Famers and three who will be.
Neal blocked for George the past two seasons in Tennessee and his goal was for Dillon to pass the 1,509 George rang last year.
"Corey is going to the Hall," Neal said. "That's why it's frustrating he doesn't have as many right now as we think he should."
"We all know Corey is going to the Hall of Fame after his career," Anderson said. "This year has been a disappointment for the whole offense, but it's still quite an accomplishment. As an offensive linemen, you get to hang your hat on very few things and to have a back do the things he's done is a good feeling."
It's quite a short list when you think about it. It's also a modern one. All six began their careers in the past 25 years. Two Bengals, Neal and left guard Matt O'Dwyer, have also blocked for George and Martin, respectively.
"Different runners," said O'Dwyer of Martin and Dillon. "I think Curtis is a finesse guy and Corey is a power guy, but I really don't want to say that because Curtis can run people over and Corey can run away from people. They're just two great backs because they've done it year after year and they run hard all the time. That's all you can ask."
But Dillon won't check that list twice as he closes in on 1,000 during the holidays.
"Not many guys get 1,000," Dillon acknowledged. "But if we're not winning, it's no big deal."