Lewis looks for one key

8-20-03, 7 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Ever since Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis gave an interview late last week to the web site of "Sports Illustrated," a fear has rippled through Bengaldom that he and running back Corey Dillon don't have a good relationship.

On Tuesday, Lewis said he has a relationship with the Pro Bowl runner, albeit a different and evolving one.

"I don't think Corey has ever been off board," Lewis said. "He's strong-willed. He's not been off board, but he's a strong-willed guy and he's our stallion. We'll just keep riding him and keep the blinders on him as much as we can."

It sounds like they're still trying to get used to each other. Lewis didn't back off his comments in which he said just two players on offense (Willie Anderson and Reggie Kelly) had bought into his program, but he said the number is growing for the kind of guys he wants.

"(It means) You're in step with everything we're doing," Lewis said. "Coach (Bill) Parcells said it today. It's not an opera. It's a chorus. That's pretty good. That's what has to happen. The individual play and selfish plays have to be erased. . .We're beginning to have fun as a team. We're starting to like each other as a team. That's a big thing."

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DORSCH HOPEFUL:** The roster lines are being drawn. Rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson is taking snaps with the first team. Adrian Ross has pushed ahead of Steve Foley at left outside linebacker. Now Travis Dorsch takes aim at incumbent punter Nick Harris.

He looks to still have a shot because he's still here after talking with head coach Marvin Lewis Monday night. After clearing the air with a 58-yard punt Saturday against the Lions, he cleared the air with Lewis and he still thinks one day he's going to be the best punter in the NFL.

"He's happy with where I'm at and I'm happy with where they're at, so it was a satisfying talk," Dorsch. "It's not really a big deal. He probably has 50 conversations a day like that."

Dorsch admitted he was frustrated Monday. He has yet to hold in a game and he waited on the sidelines until 1:53 left in the game Saturday before getting off the Bengals' longest punt of the preseason and his first of the night. But he also knows reality. The Bengals punted just twice all night and he was alternating with Harris.

"I'm no different than the other backups who warm up before the game and have to go in the second half and play well," Dorsch said. "I know I'm fighting inconsistency. That comes with being a young guy. That's been my biggest focus in camp. I think I can be the best in the league at what I do. I know I'm not there yet, but that's what I see in the future."

Dorsch is confounding the Bengals because his big leg has changed field position for them. But he has also not been very consistent in practices. He hopes the decision comes down after Saturday's game, so he has an extra week to find work if it's not him.

"I think any competitor would feel that way. He wants to be in position to be able to get with another team," Dorsch said. "But this is a business and the player has no control over that. If they wait until after the fourth game, that's fine, they wait until after the fourth game. I'm just keeping my head down and trying to get better."

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BLITZES AND BLASTS:** Rookie quarterback Carson Palmer didn't get a shot in the two-minute drill Tuesday because there are only two drills and the quarterbacks alternate, so it was Palmer's day to sit. . .The offense didn't score when safety Rogers Beckett ripped a Jon Kitna pass out of wide receiver Chad Johnson's hands in the end zone, and safety Mark Roman picked off Shane Matthews. . .

Palmer, who leads the AFC with three touchdown passes, thinks his biggest test is going to be against first-team defenses. "Those guys probably are cut by now," said Palmer of the Lions that allowed his 7-for-7 outing. But it doesn't look like Palmer is going to get that shot in the last two pre-season games because Kitna is probably going to play into the third quarter Saturday, and starters traditionally only play about a series or two in the finale. . .

RB Brandon Bennett (ankle) sat out Tuesday

afternoon's practice, but is expected back Wednesday. So did MLB Armegis Spearman (hamstring), but he is day-to-day. . .

The Bengals again devoted most of Tuesday afternoon's hour-long practice to special teams with a curious twist. While safety JoJuan Armour was trying to pick up a simulated bad punt snap, he crashed into the jugs machine that was throwing out punts and temporarily put it out of order. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons, a former Kansas punter, then started thowing the punts himself.

"The punters weren't warmed up for that kind of punt," Simmons said. "And if I tried it, there would have been no question about tearing a hamstring." . . .

As promised, Lewis pounded the Bengals in the running game Tuesday morning in what offensive line coach Paul Alexander gleefully called, "fun. Our guys had a good time and we got a lot of work done and got better."

Center Mike Goff: "He said we were going to work on the running game and was he right about that. We got a lot done. If you don't get better when you make it a point of emphasis, you're not doing your job."

Lewis: "So far our football team has kind of responded on things we needed to respond to."

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