'Terminator' starts new chapter as Conner savors 'early Xmas gift'

Posted Dec 15, 2012

John Conner

Updated: 3:40 p.m.

The Bengals had the tough duty of putting fullback Chris Pressley on season-ending injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury, but they feel like they replaced him with a similar guy in more ways than one by inking former Jet and Cincinnati prep product John Conner to a two-year deal after a morning workout at Paul Brown Stadium.

"An early Christmas gift," Conner said after he met with the Bengals offensive coaches.

The 5-11 250-pound Conner (Pressley is 5-11, 260) had his own injury issues in New York earlier this season. After he pulled his hamstring trying to play through a sprained MCL, the Jets released him Oct. 18 after he played in every game the previous two seasons, and the Cincinnati native came home to work out at Ignition Sports in Mason, Ohio.

"Same John. He's been back seven weeks and hasn't missed a workout," said Clif Marshall, director of Ignition who helps out in the Bengals weight room one day a week. "Getting to know Chris the past few years, they're very similar guys. They're both blue-collar guys. Great work ethic, don't say much, and they're out there to knock your block off. He's 100 percent healthy."

Pressley had done exactly that this season in averaging about 20 percent of the snaps per game as the lead blocker in running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis's revival during the last five weeks. After averaging 3.3 yards per attempt in the first half of the season, The Law Firm has racked up four 100-yard games in the last five and is now averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Before he got hurt Thursday night in Philadelphia, Pressley cleared the path for BJGE's longest run of the night, a 29-yarder on the first snap, and then led the way for his one-yard touchdown run.

Conner said he caught the second half of that game and got some text messages telling him about Pressley's injury. He thought he could be getting a call soon. He is of the Corey Dillon generation but as a Bengals fan growing up, he knows the history.

"I never saw Anthony Muñoz play, but he's one of my favorites," Conner said. "Corey Dillon, Carl Pickens. I've got a lot of guys I followed."

How long it's going to take Conner to get up and going in the offense remains to be seen, but he'll probably be active because he can play special teams. Conner has a few extra days to get ready for the Steelers (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) and after his workout he stayed around to cram the offense into his newly-issued iPad.

But a lead block is a lead block and Conner has the body, the experience, and the want-to.

"Coach (Jim) Anderson simplified some of the things for me," Conner said of the Bengals running backs coach. "As a fullback you've got your assignments. Lead blocks and catching some passes out of the backfield. I would think they can play me on special teams Sunday. And whatever they want me to do on offense I'm ready to do what they want. We'll see what happens."

Rookie tight end Orson Charles worked out of the fullback spot for the last three quarters Thursday and didn't shy away. He had a big block on wide receiver Marvin Jones's 10-yard end-around and he and right guard Kevin Zeitler detonated the right perimeter late in the game for the eight-yard run that got BJGE to 100 yards.

But in Conner the Bengals are getting a seasoned three-year guy who has a good rep on special teams and a résumé of 35 games, 10 starts, 21 carries for 88 yards and four catches for 18 yards. The Jets moved on at fullback and were happy enough with his replacement to reach an injury settlement with Conner.

"I was lucky enough that I was able to sign here," Conner said. "But I never want to see what happened with (Pressley)."

The Bengals are also getting a local cult figure of sorts nicknamed "The Terminator." Despite a great career at Lakota West High School, Conner went to the University of Kentucky as a walk-on, quickly got a scholarship, and left as the Wildcats all-time games leader.

"I've had that nickname since I was six years old," Conner said of his days with the Tri-County Eagles, a youth team based in the Princeton area of Cincinnati. "Then it really kind of took off with the whole Hard Knocks thing."

One of the subjects of a movie that can be seen on Netflix, Late Rounders, Conner went to the Jets in the fifth round of the 2010 draft and become one of the rookie storylines in that season of HBO's Hard Knocks.

But the story started early. "The Terminator" has worked out at Ignition since he was a West High sophomore and he's spent the last month and a half there as workout partners with former Bengals defensive lineman Jon Fanene.

"The good thing is he knows a lot of those guys in the locker room. He's worked out with about 30 of them during the offseason," Marshall said. "It's funny. We've talked about what it would be like to play for the hometown team. Now we're going to find out."

His first game as a Bengal could be at Heinz Field in the mother of all Bengals-Steelers games. Not a playoff game. But winner goes to the playoffs.

"I love that big-time atmosphere. A crazy, loud stadium. A big game. I've played at Heinz a few times and it's a great place to play," Conner said. "I'm real excited."

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