The Tank Johnson that Bengals fans have seen and that Bengals coaches relied on to play hurt this past year is the Terry "Tank" Johnson that Jeff Razore has always known.
Ever since they became best friends while they were at the University of Washington and Razore took him into his apartment when Johnson says he had nowhere to eat or sleep as he waited for admission because of his academic status.
This is the Tank Johnson that works out with the Bellevue High School team in the Seattle suburbs, the one that Razore helps coach as an assistant for wide receivers. The team that Johnson thanked one day for letting him in by buying the receivers and linemen gloves, or another day by swinging by the 7-11 and getting a case of Gatorade.
This is the Tank Johnson Razore saw in that cell three years ago, where they began to put together the Five-Year Plan.
"There are two words that describe Tank," Razore says. "Observant and loyalty. He sees more than you think he sees. He's a thinker."
Razore is the guy that Johnson tweeted immediately after getting the deal, thanking him for being there now and for being there in the depths.
It turned out that their lunch on Monday out in Arizona came with dessert when the call came that Johnson, 28, and the Bengals were going to be together for the next several years with a contract thought impossible even a year ago. A four-year contract that signifies the triumph of The Five-Year Plan.
"After he got out, he went back to Seattle and we took it slowly," says Razore, who works out there in the software industry. "We were thinking things like, 'Where do you want to be in February of 2010?' We're both thrilled the way it's worked out. He's comfortable in Cincinnati and with the team, and he thinks the world of Zim."
The feeling was mutual enough that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer thought enough about Johnson that he wanted him back after what amounted to a one-year tryout last season. Zimmer didn't get the pass rush he expected, but there were tough, resourceful contributions to the NFL's fourth-best defense through a relentless case of plantar fasciitis. After two years in Dallas and three seasons in Chicago that involved some tumultuous last months with the police, Johnson is relieved to be in one spot with peace of mind.
So are the Bengals. Defensive line coach Jay Hayes scouted and interviewed Johnson coming out of Washington and while he didn't coach him he can tell he has changed.
"All I can go by is what I've seen here and he does everything a pro football player has to do in order to win," says Hayes, who has been coaching in the NFL for more than a decade. "You can tell by the way he carries himself that he's more mature. He's got two daughters. He's a family man. He knows he's got people relying on him. And he's been on the other side."
After he agreed to the deal, Johnson talked about taking more of a role in showing the young guys the ropes. It's a role that Hayes says Johnson has already embraced. On Thursday nights last year Hayes says Johnson hosted the D-line at his Northern Kentucky condo while they watched tape. On Tuesdays, the off day, he'd sit in Hayes' office and they'd decompress watching some more tape.
"Knowing the situation I was in, I knew I wasn't going to get a $30 million contract," Johnson says. "I knew I was going to have to do some things to change. I knew I was going to have to make changes in my life."
Johnson may have changed his surroundings after the awful end in Chicago in 2007, when he spent 60 days in jail for a probation violation of a gun charge that capped a string of legal problems. But Razore has always been part of the décor.
Their friendship almost still seems to surprise Razore. He's white from the Seattle suburbs and grew up with two parents. Johnson is an African-American who went to different schools for ever year between kindergarten and sixth grade, according to ESPN.com. The 2007 story said he had been in a one-parent home since he was eight and it wasn't until his father moved to Arizona that his family became structured.
"I think we've learned from each other," Razore says. "He hadn't been exposed to how I grew up and I didn't know anything about where he came from. And it's like we're brothers. I know that's how he treats my little brothers. He's the kind of guy you'll be driving somewhere and he'll be talking trash the whole way to you, but he's a serious guy."
This is the Tank Johnson that Razore knows and that's one they wanted the public to know.
"We had to change his image. We had to show what he really was. He's a good guy. Not a bad guy," Razore says. "He was trying to help a friend. He realized he had to start putting himself first. ... You don't see him out and about Cincinnati much."
Just last week before he signed Johnson and Razore were hanging out in Johnson's condo and it was around 11 p.m. when Johnson suddenly hopped off the couch and said he was going to get in a 45-minute workout downstairs.
"Look at the teams he's been on," Razore says. "He's been to the playoffs a bunch and I don't think that's a coincidence. He's a winner and that's what he helps bring."
Johnson has been on a division winner at every stop. He's been to the Super Bowl once in a loss with the Bears, but he wants to win one. It's one of the reasons Razore says Johnson won't get soft with the security. Before this season's bout with the foot problems cost him two games, Johnson says he had never missed a game an NFL game because of injury.
"I've never been motivated by money," Johnson says, pointing to his last season in Chicago. "I hurt my quad tendon in my left knee in April doing some drills and I was back playing Week 1 when we went to the Super Bowl."
Winning is why Johnson kept an eye on free agency for more than his own deal. On the day former Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant visited the Bengals, Johnson observed when asked how the Bengals can make a Super Bowl run, "If we can get a wide receiver that can draw people away from Chad (Ochocinco) and if we can build on the strong foundation we've got on defense. We proved last year you don't have to score 40 points a game to win."
This is the Tank Johnson that his best friend has always seen. He thinks you will see more of him.
"This," Razore says, "is just the start of the plan."