Brooks on deck

Posted: 6:15 p.m.

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Brooks

Ready or not, here comes Ahmad Brooks.

Brooks, the subject of so much controversy when drafted in the third round of the July supplemental draft, has blended into the woodwork since the season began.

Until this week. With David Pollack and Odell Thurman out for the year, A.J. Nicholson (hamstring) out again this week, and Rashad Jeanty (foot) downgraded to doubtful Thursday, Brooks is just one of six healthy linebackers for Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium against the Patriots.

And one of them, Andre Frazier, may not be active because he's been here two days, and another, Marcus Wilkins, is known primarily as a special teams player and not a scrimmage player.

So with Caleb Miller probably starting in Jeanty's place if he can't go, the 6-3, 260-pound Brooks is looking at the most snaps of his NFL career.

"He's progressing, but its time for him to step up," said defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan after Thursday's practice. "Everyone is going to have their role. We'll see how the game plays out. It's time for him to do that."

Brooks, plagued by injuries and some off-field problems his last year at Virginia, has been a nice, yet raw, addition so far.

"He's a very raw mental guy right now, but he just has to learn," Bresnahan said. "He wasn't in our offseason program and that set him back. He's got the athletic ability, he's got all the physical tools you need, he just has to know what to do, and do it fast. Don't do it slow. Fast."

Brooks came into camp as a middle backer, but he has been good enough to get work on the outside as well, and has been getting reps in Jeanty's spot.

"He'll be a very good outside backer," Bresnahan said. "He's got some good veterans around that can help him out."

Brooks is going to have to supply some muscle against a very good New England running game that is still seventh in the NFL even though it rushed for just 50 yards in the 17-7 loss to Denver. Miller is about 20 pounds lighter than the 245-pound Jeanty, off a seven-tackle game in Pittsburgh, and Brooks is about 35 pounds heftier than Miller.

Jeanty is the only Bengal downgraded. Wide receiver Antonio Chatman practiced for the second straight day but remains questionable with a groin injury. Among the injured that did practice Thursday and are probable: WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, S Kevin Kaesviharn, LB Brian Simmons and DE Justin Smith. Click here for the complete injury report.

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Johnson

CHAD LOOSENS UP PATS: Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison summed it all up Thursday when asked why he lets Chad Johnson get away with the trash talk and still disdains former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell for his words before the Pats beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl a few years back.

"Because Freddie's a bum and Chad's a baller," Harrison said Thursday. "He doesn't say it in a negative way. It's all humorous. Look at the antics that go along with it. He's not looking to hurt anyone's feelings. Motivate team, self, maybe a little spotlight on himself. It's all good. That's what the NFL is like."

They haven't had this much fun in New England since the Tea Party as Johnson loosened up 'Camp Tight as a Drum' so much that he even had Patriots coach Bill Belichick talking trash at his Thursday news conference n Foxboro.

"It's Chad being Chad. That's just Chad," said Belichick when asked why it was OK for Johnson to talk trash on Wednesday. "He's not even serious. I could throw the same stuff back at him if that's really what we wanted to do."

Of course with a New England media that rarely sees Belichick with his hair down, they egged him on.

"Tell him we'd cover him one-on-one all the time, but he pushes off more than any receiver in the league," Belichick said. "He must be paying off the officials not to call it. We're going to have to double cover him some, not that he can get open ... just as much as he pushes off, we have to do something to protect ourselves."

Johnson couldn't hide his delight when the quotes were relayed to him coming off the field from Thursday's practice.

"I like Bill," Johnson said. "Tell me again."

Belichick said he likes Johnson and enjoyed spending time with him in the offseason when their paths crossed at a couple of events and he said he had fun.

"Chad is a good guy; he's a good guy," Belichick said. "I've spent some time with him. He's really an entertaining kid. He has a good sense of humor. It sounds like he was poking fun at us. That's OK."

And he gave his seal of approval. Johnson could play for him. Belichick remembered working Johnson out at USC before the 2001 draft and Johnson showing up with an Oregon State magnetic flag on his car.

"I think he'd be productive for any team in the league. I can't imagine that he wouldn't be," Belichick said.

Harrison didn't let Johnson off the hook, though, and didn't forget the "Tell 37 I'll knock his helmet off," of Wednesday.

"That guy couldn't knock a mosquito's helmet off," Harrison said. "I guarantee you, if he knocks my helmet off, I GUARANTEE you I will retire.

"It's all fun until we get on the field and then he's ducking balls and trying not to get hit."

Harrison also jokingly compared him to Mitchell.

"But Chad's not on that level of receiver," Harrison sparred. "He's not as good as Freddie. At least Freddie played in the Super Bowl."

Harrison admitted Johnson would have to be housebroken in staid Patriotland.

"Probably just tie him up and twist his legs and throw him in the cold tub for about 20 minutes," Harrison said. "That would shut him up."

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis even got a kick out of Belichick's comments, but then he and Johnson are two guys who have seen Belichick's engaging and talkative side. Since he has become a head coach, Lewis has spent more time with Belichick, such as a day bumping into each other at an airport and traveling together to the Senior Bowl in a rare January off for Belichick.

A few years ago Lewis went to former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini's football camp and enjoyed sitting in on Belichick teaching cornerbacks how to jam receivers.

"You learn a lot from him watching him do things. I think he was a very meticulous defensive coordinator and as a head coach," Lewis said. "We were coaching in the same division (1992-95), Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I don't know that he was spending much time with any of the Steelers coaches."

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