'Just a regular Joe'?

9-11-03, 6:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Marvin Lewis keeps pushing and Corey Dillon hasn't gone over the side.

With the microphones perched, Thursday would have been the perfect time to demand a trade, given that the Bengals are three days away from playing that in-your-face Oakland team Dillon admires. Or, Thursday would have been the time to gripe about Lewis, or getting hit in the backfield before he gets handed the ball, or sulk about his six losing seasons with a few broadsides at everyone.

If you believed the internet scuttlebutt, that's where it is supposed to be. But it didn't happen Thursday.

In fact, in the past week, some players think Dillon has embraced his head coach's call for him to exude some leadership. His usual media time routine is to hunker down in the players' lounge, where he plays video games and eats lunch. But, on Thursday, Lewis asked him to go to a news conference, and Dillon did even though the smoke from his anger at his 34-yard effort this past Sunday was still smoldering.

Someone named Domanick Davis and somebody named Justin Griffith have rushed for more yards than Dillon right now, as have three quarterbacks and one receiver.

But on Thursday, he bottled the anger just like the Broncos bottled him last Sunday.

"A year ago, I probably would have lost my mind," said Dillon of a second half he tried to rally his teammates instead of staring at them. "Who knows? I'm just telling everybody it's the first game. I truly believe good things are going to come. This was a test. It was a humbling test. To be honest with you, we probably needed to be smacked around to get everybody back focused on what we have to do. Just try to play ball. Play loose. Go out there and do the job. If everybody takes care of what they do, we'll be fine. I think everyone was geeked up and trying to do too much. We just got out of our game plan."

Lewis' game plan has been to make Dillon a locker-room leader. "He should be on the cover of the media guide, not me," Lewis says. But while Dillon likes and admires Lewis, he hates the role. He's more comfortable identifying with what he calls the Raiders' "bad boys of the league," image even though he did scream at players at Sunday's halftime to follow his lead.

And, as frustrated as he was late in the game, Dillon actually calmed down an even more frustrated Chad Johnson.

"When people think about the Cincinnati Bengals, they think about Corey Dillon, plain and simple," said middle linebacker Kevin Hardy. "He's in that role with the success he's had. He's the face of the Bengals right now. Marvin understands that from

being around other places. That's how people think. He just wants him to step up and for us to follow him. He's doing all good things because we look to him as a leader. If he continues to do that, it will help turn it around."

Dillon loves being "The Man," on the field, but "Just A Guy," off it. He says he's "a regular Joe, just like you guys," and doesn't like to be anything else. He admitted there was one reason he was in front of the microphones.

"Marvin Lewis," Dillon said. "He's my boss."

The boss is pushing and he thinks Dillon is responding.

"He's trying. He's growing. He's doing what I've asked," said Lewis, who has tried to pound it into Dillon since he became the coach that he has to be more out in front with his teammates and the media. "It's just not the thing he likes to do and that's not a bad thing. It's better than the other side. The guy who wants it, but doesn't deserve it. He's consistent."

Dillon sounds like he's in it for the long haul, but he knows what frustration can do to a man. Lewis watched Dillon stalk off the field and out of the game three years ago when his Ravens bound and gagged him, and don't think both men don't realize it. Thursday, Dillon flashed some patience when asked if he can put up with a seventh year just like the previous six.

"You're trying to draw something out of me. He's being a slick one," Dillon said. "I'm a team player. I'm rolling with the team. We're trying to reach that Super Bowl. If it's coming a little bit longer than it should, oh well."

But it was more than lip service to Chad Johnson and Arian Ross in the locker room at halftime Sunday. Ross, probably Dillon's closest friend on the team, watched him call the team up. Dillon wasn't the only talking, but he did call them up.

"Which is something new. I wouldn't have imagined him doing that," Ross said. "There's a lot of pressure on him to be a leader, but he hasn't been put in the position to be a leader until now. It takes awhile to get used to it. It's like me. I'm in my sixth year, he's in his seventh. Young guys have been looking to us, and Corey has been doing that. Then he goes back to thinking he doesn't have to be the only one."

Lewis appreciates Dillon' s sincerity about it all. During Lewis' nine months as coach, he has never seen Dillon seek any kind of publicity. But there are things that make him almost a mandatory leader even though Dillon doesn't think so.

"He's a guy who has been here. He's not new to the organization," Lewis said. "He's been a Pro Bowl player, so he's recognized around the league. He's got mementos in Canton. Nobody else here does.

"But that's not Corey," Lewis said. "Corey prefers not get that kind of attention. He likes to come down here, do his job, be with his guys, then go home and do his thing. He doesn't seem to be looking for the media-type attention. I've never experienced yet at any point. It's different, but (it's consistent)."

Dillon continues to say he likes to lead by example. "Actions speak louder than words. I'm a firm believer in that." But if Lewis needs him to be more vocal, "Then I'll do it."

So he vocalized a few things Thursday. Such as, now is not the time to abandon ship in Bengaldom.

"It's not time to panic. Nobody is panicking around here. We took a whupping. We're going to go back to basics and back to do what we do. Playing our kind of football and taking care of the ball."

Early in the offseason as Lewis picked up the shreds of the Bengals' 2-14 season, the hot rumor was Oakland would use one of its first-round picks to trade for Dillon. He admires the Raiders' philosophy and players, but he says that's where it ends.

"Where am I?" Dillon asked. "So it really doesn't matter what was going on in the offfseaon. I really wasn't paying any attention. I was enjoying my time in California.

And there continues to be the mystique around Dillon as the reluctant star.

"You guys make me out to be more than I am," Dillon said. "I'm just a guy like you. . .I've got a couple of more carries than everybody, but I'm a regular Joe. That's how I like to see myself. Other people put me in that category. That's not me. . .I'm here to run the rock and play football."

At the moment, that's the biggest thing they need from him.

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