The CD Challenge

5-6-01, 10:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Sunday was a tough day for Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon, the biggest free agent on the NFL market.

He is still on the sidelines without a contract while his team goes through minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. And he learned one of his fullbacks and good friends, Nick Williams, suffered what is believed to be a season-ending knee injury.

A tough day. But Dillon says these are tough times and he says he's ready for tough negotiations. He issued a challenge Sunday night in his effort to reach a long-term deal with the club.

"This isn't a threat or anything like that," Dilllon said. "All I'm saying is let's get in a room on Friday and not come out until we get a deal. Friday is a good day. I'd like to be there. The draft is over. Minicamp is over. The voluntaries (workouts) are over. Let's get it done so I can do what I love to do. That's my challenge."

The Bengals continue not to comment on specifics of the negotiations. But they are heartened at Dillon's enthusiasm.

"We're glad to hear Corey says he wants to get it done because we would love to have him stay in Cincinnati for the long term," said Katie Blackburn, the team's executive vice president. "We would rather get something sooner rather than later."

Dillon, designated a transition free agent that gives the Bengals the right to match any offer, says he doesn't want the contract stalemate to get ugly or confrontational.

But he also wouldn't mind signing in time to make some of May's veteran voluntary camps so he can start learning the new offensive playbook. Hence, the challenge.

"Right now, I'm in the state of Missouri and you

have to show me," said Dillon, who was actually at his Blue Ash home. "They say they want me. Let's see it. I haven't packed up and gone anywhere. When we talk, I want it to be productive. I want it to be about real numbers so it can get done. Friday. It's a good day."

But Sunday wasn't a good day because of the injury to Williams. The news left Dillon devastated.

"I'm crushed. Nick is my boy," Dillon said. "They're both my boys. Clif (Groce) is hurting, too, and that's a shame. Those two guys got me to back-to-back Pro Bowls. Nick was really coming on, really progressing. I know he'll come back and he'll be as good as new. But it's a tough thing to take. My heart goes out to him."

When it comes to the contract, Dillon is beginning to get into his football mode.

"It's gut-check time," Dillon said. "It's time to grind it out, strap it on, and get a deal so it can stop the madness."

The Bengals' minicamps ends Monday morning, followed by the first week of voluntary workouts for veterans Tuesday through Thursday. They meet Tuesday through Thursday every week for the rest of May.

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