Dillon wonds why he’s not focus

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 1999

The Associated Press

The running back who was supposed to be the focal point of the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense this season has become an afterthought, and he doesn’t understand why.

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

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The running back who was supposed to be the focal point of the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense this season has become an afterthought, and he doesn’t understand why.

It’s gotten to the point where the Bengals throw the ball on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line instead of giving it to Dillon.

”If I was calling the shots, I’d run myself to death,” Dillon said. ”But I’m not. It’s that simple. There’s just some elements here that I can’t control. I’m not (criticizing) anybody. There’s just questions that need to be answered.

”There are teammates wondering what’s really going on. I’m wondering. I’m averaging 4 yards a carry – think I can’t get a yard? C’mon, man. It’s sick. It’s just sick. We’re a lot better than what we’ve showed and I know it.”

The third-year running back has grown increasingly frustrated as the running game has become less and less of a factor. The Bengals (1-9) got their only win because Dillon rushed for 168 yards on 28 carries against Cleveland on Oct. 10.

Since then, he hasn’t carried more than 16 times in a game and hasn’t picked up more than 81 yards. He ran only 14 times for 33 yards in a 24-14 loss to Tennessee last Sunday, when it became apparent that coach Bruce Coslet had lost faith in his running game.

With the offensive line getting overwhelmed, Dillon was held to 3 or fewer yards on 12 of his 14 carries. When Coslet went for it on fourth-and-2 in the first half, he called for a pass that fell incomplete.

On a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, he called for a pass again and Jeff Blake was hit and fumbled for the second time in the game. Dillon wondered why he didn’t get a chance to run it in.

”At least give me the opportunity to try,” Dillon said. ”That’s all I ask for, just to try. From the 1-yard line? Hey … it’s starting to get obvious what’s going on. There’s a lot of situations where I thought I could really help.”

Coslet understands why the running back is upset.

”I’m sure he’s sitting in there frustrated, wanting to be a bigger part of it,” Coslet said. ”And I can’t really blame him. I’d like to run the ball more.

”We’re just not blocking. What can you say?”

In his first two seasons, Dillon stamped himself as an emerging star. He broke Jim Brown’s rookie record by rushing for 246 yards in a game. He rushed for 1,129 yards as a rookie and 1,130 last season, the third-highest total in team history.

He’s on pace to become only the 11th player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons – he would finish with 1,046 at his current rate.

But he had hoped for much, much more – more yards, more carries, more wins.

”I could match up with Eddie George, Emmitt Smith, (Terrell) Davis. I don’t see them having more talent than me,” he said. ”I think we’re all in the same boat. It’s just that some running backs are in different environment, different situations which make them basically better.”

Dillon will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Bengals can keep him by matching someone else’s offer. While emphasizing that he’s not threatening to hold out, he bristled at the notion that the Bengals could force him to stay.

”I’m not saying that’s how it’s going to be, but I hear this every time: You’re restricted and they’re going to match you,” Dillon said. ”But what if I don’t want to play? That’s something totally different. … But I’m not saying that’s what’s actually going to happen.”