Posted: 8:15 p.m.
Less than a week after offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski called him "rusty," wide receiver Chad Johnson has taken it with the heart that made him a five-time Pro Bowler and not the frustration of a trade demand that has now ceased with training camp about five weeks away.
And, no, he said Thursday, it wasn't about the money.
"But I could use a little extra for gas," he said.
Johnson says after a "wonderful" conversation with quarterback Carson Palmer at last week's minicamp, the two are prepared to fuel up like they connected before last season's balky 7-9 run.
"He looked at film and looked at the things we missed on from Week 1 to Week 16 and he said 1,800 (yards) was reachable if we're perfect," Johnson said. "Of course, Carson and I were off on plays we usually clicked. We left a lot of plays on the field. We talked about what he and I need to do starting in July. We have a lot of work to do."
Johnson seems to be categorizing his priorities these days, moving from the textbook trade-me-or-retire-rant to the analytical playbook phase.
"Come on," he said. "Did you really think I wouldn't come?"
With his trade calls unheeded and his ankle gimpy, Johnson sounds like he's immersing himself in football again after a curious season he broke his own franchise record for receiving yards with 1,440 in a year he says he was "horrible."
He even likes the defense after questioning the organization's efforts to upgrade the unit in one of his rants.
"The defense is the reason I (had the surgery)," said Johnson after it knocked him around a little last weekend. "They were good from what I saw. I liked the aggressiveness. Keith Rivers is nice. It looked really good."
Johnson says he held off on getting surgery the club recommended after last season because he's afraid it will lead to a setback despite advice from his agents and the club's front office.
"I just didn't want to go messing with anything because, knock on wood, I've been so healthy," said Johnson, who has played in 103 straight games since missing four with a broken shoulder as a rookie. "Everybody's been on me. Drew (Rosenhaus). Mike (Brown). Troy and Katie (Blackburn)."
But Johnson said he knew he had to get in gear after getting roughed up by cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall on Saturday, the one minicamp workout he went full go.
"On one leg I should be able to beat anybody," Johnson said. "They were able to put hands on me, which I don't like. Usually I can do stuff to dodge and get away. Leon hit me in the throat and J-Joe embarrassed me on a dig (route) knocking the ball down."
Unlike the offseason scope of his left ankle a few years ago, doctors took out bone spurs this time and while that offers some more pain, the recovery is expected to be close to the last one that put him on the field in two weeks.
"I'm good," he said of his mind frame. "But this is just scaring me right now."
One of the casualties of Johnson's cable television Trade Crusade looked to be his relationship with Palmer. After Palmer said he expected Johnson at all mandatory events, Johnson jumped him on ESPN.com and told him to mind his own business.
But Johnson knows he and Palmer are in the same business. Bengals Passing Inc. He said they spent one period of practice last weekend discussing the need to make their timing better than last season.
"We were missing last year on stuff we've been doing in our sleep," Johnson said. "My best route since I came into the league is the 16- to 20-yard dig route over the middle and we kept missing on it.
"I wasn't right. I wasn't technical enough. Nowhere near as sound as I have been. For what a (multi) Pro Bowl veteran should be. I was very inconsistent."
Johnson, who has worn his heart on his sleeve for all seven years and 103 games he has become the Bengals all-time leading receiver, continues to be in uniform. On Thursday he severely upbraided himself out loud for his overall play last year.
"I played very poorly. Coach Brat is probably the only person who can get in my face and tell me that. Or Carson," Johnson said.
"I look at it and say, 'Damn, I did this. I did that,' " he said. "But that's not what he's looking for. He's not looking at the numbers. He's looking at the times I was inconsistent. Even if I do mess up, I should be able to make a play. But I couldn't with the screwups I was making."
No one has ever dissed Johnson's work ethic. He doesn't know the whys of the miscues, but he said, "All the time we work in practice ... we're just going to have to do more.
"What we have to fix is so small, so minor. It's not the big things, it's the little things."
Johnson also talked about some big things Thursday:
Johnson reiterated, "I love you, Cincinnati," and said he realizes there are fans that have turned against him while recalling Kobe Bryant got booed in the first game of what turned out to be an NBA MVP season following his trade demands of last summer.
But Johnson said Thursday that he hopes his fans here understand the trade tirades had nothing to do with his feelings for them and it was venting from a 7-9 season and what he felt was a lack of attention to upgrading the defense. What he called "in-house" criticism also set him off. He doesn't think he had a good year ("I set a high standard," he says), but he also knows he's not the only one.
"I love them. I hope they understand it's just business," Johnson said. "I felt in that three-month period the best thing for me was to get out of Cincinnati. I was just going through some things and I thought it was the best move for me. Obviously not. I'm still here. Yeah, it was the losing. It got on my nerves.
"I did everything under the sun to get out of here. I acted psycho. I posed my case. I talked with my owner, who loves me dearly. He must. Those offers were unheard of. And he still said no. Really, I'm not that good."
Bengals president Mike Brown informed Johnson that he was going nowhere because the club didn't believe it could immediately replace the value of a four-time AFC receiving yardage champion. That included Washington's offer of what amounted to two first-round draft picks. Plus, the Bengals didn't want to deal with salary cap acceleration.
Johnson maintained he has a good relationship with Brown, said he believes he wants to win, and appreciates how the team has ripped up his contracts twice.
But he also wants an NFL title.
"The time is coming when I'm done. I'm up. I'll say anything to get a ring," Johnson said. "The window of opportunity is getting smaller."
Asked if people would consider that a selfish statement, Johnson said, "You know what? I'm a part of that (team) window, too. I see us looking at the things we need to do. I felt we weren't doing it and needed to be addressing it more. ... (My desire for) winning gets knocked off because of the way I play the game. People think all I want to do is talk and celebrate and 'He's a me-first guy.' I want a ring. What else can I do?"
Johnson said the Bengals "have done things for me that have never really been done before. Like tearing me up (his contract) with four years left and re-doing me the first time. I've also done well by them, also."
Johnson said the offseason wasn't about money and he felt "it was funny" that people said it was even though he claims it was his bid to get to a winner.
"We have a bigger issue here. Money will take care of itself," said Johnson, who has a contract here through 2011. "If I go out and continue to be way above here, then it's going to have to happen."
What is going to happen, for now, is that Johnson is going to try and get that ring now wearing stripes.
"We're going to be in Tampa," he said.
The football phase has officially begun.