BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Corey Dillon could go either way. Right or left. Around or through. Renown or regret.
The Cincinnati Bengals' prized running back lives like he drives, sometimes neglecting to signal before making his turns. His direction, consequently, is unclear.
"Maybe I shouldn't, but I worry about him," Bengals President Mike Brown said Wednesday. "He could be a great player or he could be a one-year wonder. It depends on a lot of things."
Dillon settled his lingering police business Monday in Seattle, but he has yet to convince his employer that he is committed to a long career. Though the vehicular charges of which he was convicted were not deemed serious enough to demand additional jail time, every Dillon misstep is of intense concern at Spinney Field.
If the Bengals are to succeed without Boomer Esiason, they must be able to rely on a rock-solid running game. They need a foundation on which to rebuild Jeff Blake's confidence. They want to be able to count on Corey Dillon. They do not yet know exactly what to expect.
"I think he's at the stage where the answer isn't in," Brown said. "A lot of guys, when they're young, they work through problems of this nature. They have to grow up. I've seen a lot of players do that. I've seen some who couldn't handle it."
Is past buried?
Corey Dillon joined the Bengals last year with a reputation for trouble and a rap sheet the length of a Proust novel. Between the ages of 13 and 17, he was arrested for nine separate crimes, and was once alleged to have sold cocaine to undercover police. Dillon continues to deny that charge, but he still carries the stigma of his juvenile delinquency.
Cincinnati forgot all about that last fall, when Dillon was outrunning his problem past and trampling would-be tacklers like so many popcorn kernels. He finished his rookie year with 1,129 rushing yards and a city of infatuated fans.
Yet all of Dillon's teen-age transgressions regained their relevance when he was arrested in Seattle on March 3, charged with driving under the influence, negligent driving and driving with a suspended license. Though Dillon was found not guilty of the most serious charge, the DUI, he had provided too much context for this case to be considered an isolated incident.
The Bengals were sufficiently concerned by Dillon's court proceedings that they offered to arrange for his legal defense. Dillon declined the team's assistance and complained of police harassment, suggesting that he was stopped because of the hour, his age and the quality of his car.
Still, Dillon was found guilty on two charges he did not contest. He was ultimately sentenced to two years' probation, charged $625 in fines and fees and required to attend 12 hours of alcohol awareness meetings. A 90-day jail sentence was suspended.
Case closed? That depends. Fame, fortune and months of free time can be a combustible mix in an immature athlete, and a young star of Dillon's stature will be faced with temptations few men ever contemplate.
If he is to stay the course toward Canton, Corey Dillon is going to have to be strong. His history says this could be a struggle.
'I'm a grown man'
The Bengals wish Dillon would live year-round in Cincinnati, and distance himself from the hard streets back home. Dillon, meanwhile, believes his off-seasons are his own.
"I'm comfortable with being in Seattle," Dillon said Wednesday. "There's nothing wrong with my environment. This is my home. Mike (Brown) shouldn't worry. I'm a grown man, and I'm going to take care of my business . . .
"My goal for this year is I want to be in the mix. When they talk about Terrell Davis or Barry Sanders, I want them to say, "Don't forget about Corey Dillon.' "
The law has long arms, but it has yet to prevent Corey Dillon's forward progress. If Mike Brown's fears are unfounded, he has at least picked a player worth worrying about.
Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.