Another No. 2 gem?

4-21-01, 7:40 p.m.

**Updated: 4-21-01, 9:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals think they picked up an eventual starting tight end when they took San Jose tight end Sean Brewer in the third round of Saturday's NFL Draft.

But when the Bengals took Oregon State wide receiver Chad Johnson in the second round, a delighted War Room invoked the names of Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott and Corey Dillon.

As in the Bengals' all-time receiver, the Bengals' best current receiver, and the Bengals' lone Pro Bowl player, respectively.

They were also first-round talents who slipped to the second round because of a variety of perceptions and realities that didn't project to their performances.

Pickens, who had a malcontent label and later proved it was so crushed, he closeted himself in his bedroom until he was picked 31st in the 1992 Draft.

Dillon, who has matured great lengths since a checkered juvenile past and a volatile early pro career, didn't take a call from the team until a few days after he went with the 43rd pick in 1997.

But it sounded like a party at the home of Johnson's grandmother in Miami at dinnertime Saturday.

"Man, I m happy. I'm happy," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to coming in and helping the Bengals.

"I'm blessed," Johnson said. "I don't care where I was drafted. . . .I'm going to tell the Bengals what I told (Oregon State) Coach (Dennis) Erickson when I first came in. I won't let you down."

The Erickson thread runs through Johnson's dizzying journey that ends in Cincinnati with a very real shot at starting opposite Scott on the outside with Peter Warrick in the slot when the Bengals go to a three wide-receiver set.

Erickson gave Johnson his last shot at a pro career this past season at Oregon State. It was Erickson who hired Bob Bratkowski as his offensive coordinator first at the University of Miami and then in the NFL at Seattle.

And it was Bratkowski, in his last act as the receivers coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who coached Johnson at this past January's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

So it was fitting that Bratkowski made the most powerful argument for Johnson as the War Room debated offensive tackles like Michigan's Maurice Williams and other receivers like Wisconsin's Chris Chambers.

"I saw him in the class room, I taught him on the field, I saw him at meals," Bratkowski said. "He was very impressive to me. To me, he had everything you need to be successful in this league and someone you could work with. And I obviously have a great trust for Dennis Erickson."

Bratkowski and receivers coach Steve Mooshagian object to scouts like Joel Buchsbaum of "Pro Football Weekly," who say Johnson runs lackadaisical routes, dropped a lot of passes for a player with exceptional hands, and marches to a different drummer at times.

But they do agree with Buchsbaum's conclusion: "Great up-side, high-risk player who will need a lot of development and refinement, but he can be an impact player."

Working against Johnson Saturday was the tag of a

"one-year wonder," as well as a glacial 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine on Indianapolis' notoriously slow track at the RCA Dome.

Then there's the fact he went to two schools and took one year off before returning to Santa Monica Junior College in 1999 with the goal of getting to Oregon State.

Even then, after getting his grades at Santa Monica, he couldn't start playing this past year at Oregon State until three weeks into the season. He still managed 38 catches for 807 yards and eight touchdowns

And the fact he's the cousin of outspoken and brash Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson probably didn't help him, either.

But Chad Johnson was as honest as anyone could be when the media called Saturday.

"Everyone knows I've had academic problems all through my junior high, high school, college," Johnson said. "I've always struggled in the academic area. I finally decided to buckle down the '99 season at Santa Monica and take my grandmother's advice. Education comes first and football would just follow.

"I tried my way and everytime I tried my way, I fell by the wayside," Johnson said. "So I finally decided to try hers."

Johnson considers Erickson like a "second God. . . because he gave me another chance at life." Johnson also took advantage of another second chance, when Keyshawn took him to his old high school stadium at Dorsey High in Los Angeles for his personal workout.

On that track, Johnson blistered the 40-yard dash three times in 4.36, 4.43, and 4.38 seconds.

"He can get separation out of his cuts," Mooshagian said. "And he can separate out of bump-and-run. He's also good at taking the short pass and getting some yards. He didn't drop a ball at the Senior Bowl or combine. You put Darnay, Peter and Chad on the field at the same time, you've got some guys who can get down the field quickly. He gives us something we don't have."

Johnson has a pretty basic explanation for the slow time at the scouting combine.

"I was nervous, tense. I think I was scared," Johnson said. "Everyone knows I don't run a 4.5. That's common sense. Everyone knows I can fly.

"I stumbled both times coming out of my 40," Johnson said. "The way I look at it, he stumbled, recovered and he still runs a 4.5. He's got to be fast. I wasn't going to stop until they told me to stop running."

Chad Johnson claims he has a different style than Keyshawn ("I'm more of the finesse-type, speed receiver. Keyshawn is the more physical type.") and immediately showed he has a different personality.

"I'm at a loss for words," Chad said at one point Saturday. "He's more the talking type. I like to keep my mouth shut and lead by example. I might do some talking on the field, but that's about it."

Actually, Chad credits Keyshawn and his other NFL cousin, Titans cornerback Samari Rolle, with getting him through the nerve-wracking process.

When asked what he learned from Keyshawn, Johnson said, "To keep my mouth shut and do what I need to do. 'Handle your business.' That's his motto to me. Everytime he sees me, the first line out of his mouth (is), 'Handle your business.'"

Those are words you didn't expect to hear. But then, the Bengals didn't think Johnson would be there, either.

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