History's screen test

11-2-01, 5:50 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Corey Dillon has been known to write history on Sundays, but this bye weekend others plan to chronicle it.

Dillon went to Los Angeles Friday night to shoot an hour-long ESPN interview to be aired next week and will spend all day Saturday with FOX as the subject of an upcoming documentary.

On Sunday, he'll be a live fixture on the FOX pre-game shows with Howie, Terry, and Cris.

But Dillon and Bengals running backs coach Jim Anderson spent the rest of the week working on the record book's rough draft.

Take this past Thursday. Dillon has just watched his lead-off homer last Sunday against the Lions in the 24-hour football diner that is Anderson's office.

A 96-yard run on the game's first snap for Cincinnati's longest run ever. And Dillon says, "First time since Pop Warner," since he has taken it all the way so early.

Offensive line coach Paul Alexander, marveling at Dillon's patience and feel, said this week, "There's not too many guys alive who could have done that."

But Anderson has flicked to Dillon's second run of 27 that will add up to 184 yards. And Dillon cringes.

He has just caught a toss, is sweeping right, and is now veering into a crowd of Lions on the sideline for no gain.

"I should have run up in," Dillon says. "Cut it up."

"That's the stutter and go," Anderson says with a flick of the remote. "See it? Stutter. Go. See what I mean?

"Great job right here taking care of the ball," says Anderson as Dillon quickly transfers it to his right arm so he can use his left to fend off people, a move that caused him to fumble a month ago in San Diego.

"Now you can battle him. I like what you did there."

Big things, like team and league records, come from little things, like tape study and running hard every practice snap.

You know because you see it on tape. And when he sees he could have got some more yards cutting up? Damn. He wants every yard. Not just 184.

The running backs like to roll their eyes at Anderson's attention to detail and jokingly refer to him as "OC," for "OverCoach." But they also respect him highly and know there has been no position coach who has ever been with the Bengals longer.

"He's our man, our dean, our coach," Dillon says. "He's the guy who gets the tape and has us studying and gets us ready."

That's why the eight-man front the Lions flashed on the first play didn't surprise Dillon a bit.

"Jim, they've been playing eight in the box with corner blitzes against us for five years. Right?" Dillon asks.

"See how that safety walks down in there?" asks Dillon as strong safety Ron Rice creeps up on the Bengals' right side of the line. "It's just stemming off last week's performance. We know they were bringing up safeties. The Bears were successful doing it last week. Nothing new at all."

But it broke like nothing did against the Bears last week, when Dillon's longest run was 10 yards. Anderson flicks the tape.

The lead draw from the Bengals' own 4 that is supposed to go to the right gets stuffed. There is Dillon brushing through the arm

tackle of Luther Elliss, one of the few times he'll make a play on right guard Mike Goff. Dillon pauses ever so slightly up the middle before jetting back to the left.

That's the Hall-of-Fame patience that jolted Alexander when he saw the tape. It's what Anderson calls keeping the ball on-side. Meaning how Dillon kept the flow of the play going so holes would still open.

"He forced the hole," Anderson says. "The ball is designed to go to the right.
The ball can go anywhere. They all know that. By staying on-side of it, everyone is committed. That gave our offensive line a chance to fit on everyone. If he does it too soon, it doesn't give everyone a chance to fit on the guys.

"What really makes the run here is the discipline," Anderson says. "It's staying on-side, keeping the feet moving, and the head up."

As the play begins to clog up on the screen, Dillon sees safety Lamar Campbell move down on the left side of the Bengals' line. That's where Dillon is headed, shooting between left guard Matt O'Dwyer and left tackle Richmond Webb.

"See that other safety," says Dillon of Campbell. "When it went on-side, he sucked down over there. He bounced in, (I) sized him up, Darnay (Scott) came in with an excellent block. Now it's just me and the corner (Terry Fair)."

"The acceleration. This is a rare thing," Anderson says as Dillon runs away from the pack. "This guy Terry Fair can run. That's the thing that separates a good back from a great back. The ability to take it to the house. But it happened because everyone did what they were supposed to do, C.D. knows what we're trying to do offensively, then he makes the play."

Dillon might have made history with that run, but he helped the Bengals win with the 25 yards that took him six carries to grind out in Cincinnati's clinching touchdown drive.

It's not highlight stuff. But it is this drive that defines Dillon as a clutch, fourth-quarter, north-and-south runner who can secure wins.

On a third-and-1 from the Lions 43, the Bengals try another toss like the one that gained nothing back in the first quarter. This time, Dillon doesn't string it out as wide and the line as well as fullback Lorenzo Neal and wide receiver Ron Dugans gets more of a push. It means eight yards and a first down.

"Look at everybody pulling," Dillon says. "That's big Webb out there, right?" See Zo hit the safety? Duges makes a great crack-back block on the linebacker. No. 54. I ran through an arm tackle. I do my little things."

Suddenly, Dillon isn't in the game on the ninth play of the drive at the Detroit 16 after Scott makes a 19-yard catch.

Dillon was accused of taking himself out of the 24-0 loss to the Bears late in the game because of frustration at miscommunication with quarterback Jon Kitna. But he vehemently claimed it wasn't unusual for him to take himself out of a long drive for a rest.

And his point is now validated when backup Brandon Bennett runs four yards wide left to the Lions 12.

Now Dillon flicks the clicker. He knows he's about to make two big runs to get the touchdown. But he cringes again.

He and Kitna fail to connect on a pass that brings up a third down. Dillon looks covered. The ball looks underthrown in the flat.

"The guy came up on me," Dillon says. "But it's catcheable. If it's catcheable, I have to catch it." He flicks it again.

Three plays later, Dillon scores the winner. On first-and-goal from the 5, the same lead draw that broke for the touchdown is called. But this calls for a different response. There's more of a push on the right and Dillon puts his head down and follows the pile to the 1-yard line, where safety Kurt Schulz has to make the stop.

"I'm not tired," Dillon says. "I know they're tired. You're trying to wear a defense down."

He scores on a counter that comes back to the middle. The instant of misdirection gives him the room for momentum that allows him to bounce off a tackler and drive into the end zone.

"Contact balance is all I'm thinking about there," Dillon says. "I kept my feet, kept my balance. The guy kind of bounced off me."

Anderson likes the fact that after 27 carries for 184 yards, Dillon is flicking at two plays that didn't gain a yard. The early sweep and the late pass.

"That's how the best get better," he says as history's rough draft is pieced together.

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