Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Dillon's goal: Be well-rounded

Star working to improve blocking, receiving

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Corey Dillon wants to play on third down.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        GEORGETOWN, Ky. — It's early August. The regular season is more than a month away. Corey Dillon, the running back in the first year of the richest contract in Bengals history, is working like a rookie trying to make the team.

        In blitz blocking drills, Dillon is digging his white-and-orange cleats into the grass and kicking up sod, pushing around linebackers who have 30 pounds on him.

        Dillon drops from the right halfback spot and meets charging starting linebacker Steve Foley with his hands. Johnson tries to push up field, but Dillon blocks him back to the inside and away from the quarterback.

        One of the NFL's best ball carriers, Dillon knows if he wants to play on third downs, he's going to have to improve his blocking and pass receiving.

        Brandon Bennett was the Bengals' third-down back a year ago. He led the team's running backs with 19 catches and 168 receiving yards. And when Bennett wasn't running pass routes, he was staying in the backfield to block blitzing linebackers and defensive backs.

        “I'm more into the passing game,” Dillon said Monday, “so I'm going to have to pick it up and help the offense in different ways. Being a blocker and picking up blitzes, that's something I worked on for the season.”

        A knock on Dillon earlier in his pro career was he didn't help the pass game; he was a liability. He was selfish. He didn't like to block and didn't have the hands to catch the ball. Blocking is a lot like playing good defense in basketball. It's as much about will as it is about skill.

        His dedication to rounding out his game by becoming a trustworthy blocker and reliable receiver are Exhibits A and B that his new five-year, $28 million contract has not softened Dillon.

        “He's not content. He's hungry. He's as hungry as he was last year,” running backs coach Jim Anderson said of Dillon, who rushed for a team record 1,435 yards in a salary-drive season. “He wants to practice hard and achieve.”

        Dillon wants to prove he can block and catch the ball.

        “It's not my specialty, but it comes along with the job description,” he said of blocking. “Is it something I like to do? I don't think any running back likes to see linebackers going full speed. But there's no getting around it.

        “If you're not a complete player back there (who's) just good in some areas, teams know that. "Hey, you can't pick up the blitz.' You're going to be in for a hell of a day.”

        Dillon remembers a game at Tennessee as a rookie in 1997. And it's not the 39 yards and first career rush ing touchdown.

        “They blitzed all day, and I think I gave up about four sacks,” he said.

        After signing his contract in May, Dillon reported to voluntary workouts determined to stay in the game past second down.

        He insists he is a good receiver, and his career-low 18 receptions in 2000 were more a function of the pass offense's futility. He had 31 receptions the year before.

        How much playing time he gets on third down depends largely on his blocking.

        “That's something I believe he worked on in the offseason,” said second-year linebacker Armegis Spearman, who has met up with Dillon in blitz drills.

        “He's got good, quick hands. Real balanced, strong, those are the kind of backs you hate to go against.”

        There are other signs that the big contract won't slow Dillon or dim his desire.

        He got mad several times during afternoon practice once last week. He threw his helmet a couple of times and spiked the ball after getting stopped for a loss on a sweep and stalked 20 yards away.

        Coach Dick LeBeau went over and talked quietly with Dillon.

        “I think Corey and I will probably talk several times this year,” LeBeau said. “That's one of the reasons I love him. He's an emotional player. He plays every down, he plays hard.

        “I haven't seen any indication of him (letting up because of the contract). That's good. I want him involved.”


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