Followed to the letter

BY GEOFF HOBSON

GEORGETOWN, Ky. _ Corey Dillon and the Bengals didn't agree on much in their bumpy negotiations. But they both decided today the infamous "Five Day Letter," sent last week was an invitation to a deal.

Last Thursday, the Bengals informed Dillon they were using their rights under the collective bargaining agreement in dealing with a restricted free agent. If a team sends a letter within five days of the club's second preseason game to an unsigned restricted free agent, they can inform him he will be ineligible for the regular-season opener if he doesn't report to the team the day before the second preseason game. If he's not there the day before the third preseason game, he's out for the second regular-season game, and so forth.

Dillon wasn't happy with the move, but said today, "It was a good tactic because it got done and if both sides are happy and the situation is resolved."

Bengals President Mike Brown said, "It put pressure on him and pressure on us and the result was we got a deal. I'm glad we used it. It was a good thing to do."

Brown is clearly still fuming over the Carl Pickens experience last year, when Pickens signed a $23.2 million deal three days before the regular-season opener and wasn't ready to play.

"They come in so late they can't help you until late in the season," Brown said. "They honestly ought to stay at home and not come at all. That's what we went through with Carl. He wasn't ready to play and it took him a long time before he was ready, if he was ever ready at any time. Now with Corey we've got a month to get him up and running before we play and that ought to be enough."

Dillon knows who's waiting now that he's on time.

The Cleveland Browns on Sept. 10 in the Paul Brown Stadium regular-season opener.

Dillon shredded the Browns in two games last season for 340 yards on 56 carries.

"I think the Browns are looking forward to it, too," Dillon said. "They've got something to prove. The two games we played them, I racked up some yards on them, so I'm pretty sure they want to shut me down and shut me out. It's going to be interesting."

When Dillon came to Cincinnati for the ill-fated June 12 summit, Brown wanted to make sure Dillon got a tour of the new stadium. He joked with Dillon at the time, "After you see it, you'll play for a nickel." As it turned out, Dillon is playing for a pretty penny. But he liked the place.

"That's state of the art," Dillon said. "I think that's the best stadium and by far. It's a beautiful stadium."

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SALARY CAP JOLT:** Once upon a time, the Bengals had so much room under the NFL salary cap that they led the league. Like yesterday. But those days are gone. With the signing of Dillon and second-rounder Mark Roman in the last 24 hours, the Bengals lost $3.6 million in cap room in 24 hours. That means they've got about $1 million left and they will need all of it to get through a season with injuries, practice squad and possible grievances.

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BACKS AGAINST THE WALL:** With Dillon in the fold, what happens to the other running backs? Brown said today he's not leaning to putting Michael Basnight down for the year on injured reserve with a broken wrist.

The Bengals usually keep five backs three running backs and two fullbacks and put another on the practice squad. The squad guy will be Texas rookie fullback Ricky Brown. Fullbacks Nick Williams and Clif Groce are locks, as well as Dillon, and most likely Brandon Bennett and fourth-round pick Curtis Keaton. That puts veteran Sedrick Shaw on the bubble, but they probably won't make a move until they see how healthy they come out of the preseason.

Coach Bruce Coslet said tonight that Bennett, Williams (as a running back) and Shaw will work behind the first offensive line in the first half.

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WARRICK IMPRESSING:** For a guy who was supposed to be easily distracted, first-round pick Peter Warrick is drawing raves for the way he has prepped for Friday night's start at flanker, five days after he made the move from split end.

"Warrick's doing a great job," Coslet said. "He's spending extra time with (receivers coach Steve) Mooshagian and he's had very little assignment error. I'm impressed. He's working hard to make it a smooth transition."

Ron Dugans, Warrick's fellow Florida State rookie receiver, practiced tonight on his tender hamstring and is probable to make his NFL debut in the Falcons game. He'll make the trip, but Coslet won't make a call on him until later: "If they can't go full speed, I don't want them going at all."

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