6-24-03, 4:10 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Chad Johnson should change his number from 85 to 7 and 11.
Or maybe 24 and 7.
Or maybe change his name to Howard Johnson, the old host of the highways who tried to stay open all night.
HoJo should have hired CJ, the Bengals' third-year wide receiver on what looks to be a go route to stardom. For Chad Johnson, Paul Brown Stadium is always open. It never shuts down. He's here in the morning working out, in the afternoon shooting baskets, and at night watching film.
Or maybe he's here in the morning lifting weights, or taking a sauna in the afternoon, or at night trying to talk an assistant coach into taking him to dinner. He's like the elevator. He never stops at the coaches' level like most players. He keeps right on going, barging on up to A2, the top floor of PBS, and poking his head into the office of chief financial officer Bill Scanlon looking for Reds' tickets.
He says when the coaches are here, he'll stay to 10 or 11. Now that they're on a break, he might leave at five.
His ultimate gate crashing came on the second day of this past draft, when he stumbled upon the brain trust about to make the fifth pick. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander politely asked him outside, then put a hand on his shoulder and gently told him why players really shouldn't be in there.
Home? This is home because he lives virtually next door at One Lytle Place. Home? Home is Miami, where he's headed this weekend after camping out at PBS since March in an effort to produce his stated goal of a 1,800-yard season.
"I'm never going to be ordinary, I'm always going to be extraordinary," Johnson said. "I'm not the hulk, but I'm going to be incredible."
The kid never stops. The energy is endless and head coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't have it any other way.
"Chad is an exciting guy," Lewis said. "He wants to do it the right way. We want all our players to want to be here. To feel comfortable so they
can be down here to learn, improve, get better and prosper as players."
There is nothing back at One Lytle except furniture. His family is back in Miami and that's where he wants them. There is nothing to go home to, so he stays past lunch on the basketball court and beats Bengals.com in a version of H-O-R-S-E. He wins, C-H-A-D to nothing, and then busts back to the locker room.
"I only want to think about football," Johnson said. "My first two years I didn't. I want to be up here by myself. Now I know what it takes. I want to be focused. I can't wait now. I want to start out just as fast When is the first pre-season game?"
Aug. 10 against the Jets in the Meadowlands. But it's clear he's still haunted by last season's first four games when he caught just five balls for 78 yards. He never seemed satisfied with the closing torrid 12-game stretch that gave him 1,166 yards.
He always seemed to be thinking about the 1,451 that would have put him behind only Marvin Harrison in the NFL if he had the same numbers in the season's first month.
"You know what would be messed up?" Johnson asked. "If I did all that talking and didn't produce. It's sort of putting a lot pressure on myself, which I kind of like. I talk so much, I have no choice but to walk the walk. That's one of the big reasons I do the talking. To push myself so I can stay on top of my game."
Lewis hasn't told him to tone down his act yet. But of course, he hasn't lived through weeks where Johnson predicted wins against the Texans and Browns like last season. And you can believe that Johnson has given him the chance and that Lewis would take the opportunity.
Lewis has looked up more than once this offseason and seen Johnson leaning into a staff meeting. A couple of times, Lewis has offered him a chair.
"I talk to Coach Lewis about everything," Johnson said. "On the field. Off the field. About life."
Johnson's outgoing personality reached locker room legend last season when during a practice he caught a ball near Bengals President Mike Brown. In deference to Art Modell's firing of his father, Brown has always tried to have an arm's length relationship with his players so as not to interfere with the coach. So many did a double take when Johnson put his arm around Brown for a quick hug before going back to the huddle.
"Mike's fine with me," Johnson said. "He said what he always says when he sees me. 'Hey, Chad.'"
Johnson has also been keeping an eye on his new boss, Lewis. He loves what he sees.
"I can't wait to see our defense take the field against another team," Johnson said. "Marvin's a genius. If offenses have to face what we've been facing since March. . .They throw everything at you but the kitchen sink. They've got linebackers inverting with linemen and coverages rotating at the last second. There's so much movement it's crazy out there."
Johnson's latest quest is to get all the new players on the team to sign one of his T-Shirts. The shirt black with signatures confirms what he's been thinking since he put up shop at PBS this offseason.
"It definitely feels like a new team," Johnson said. P> Up on A2 again, Johnson heard a voice over the office intercom paging someone.
"Hey," he said, bolting up out of a chair again. "I want to say hi to Mike. Let me on there. Where's that microphone?"
Then he's off again, and you get the idea he won't have much problem being heard.