TRAINING CAMP 2008 INDEX: Features, news, notes, video, photos, schedule and more* * *
Updated: 8-14-08, 5:30 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Cornerback Johnathan Joseph saw before anybody else Wednesday night that it was going to be a little like the old days for Chad Johnson, the Bengals manchild who plays NFL receiver like a man and enjoys the game like a child while also displaying at times child-like tantrums.
But during practice under the lights here at Georgetown College Johnson looked as close to himself as he's been since undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery eight weeks ago. After practice, he regaled the local media with a few classic Chad-isms for the first time since last Oct. 22.
Joseph "He had the look in his eyes tonight," Joseph said after continuing his training camp duel with the five-time Pro Bowler. "I guess he felt more comfortable. He had a day's rest after the game, and he looked it. When he first came back (last week) he was limping a little bit. He didn't have the explosion. Now he's coming out of his routes sharp like he did before."
"This has probably been my first practice where I've been able to do what I like to do."
Then head coach Marvin Lewis seemed to make sure it was really going to be like the old days after practice when he went over to Johnson during stretching, whispered a few words to him, and then heard Johnson yell, "Jack," signaling to Bengals public relations director Jack Brennan that he was ready to end his 10-month silence with the local media.
Johnson said he was facing fines from the NFL and the Bengals if he continued the silent treatment, yet it is purely a league matter that brings a $20,000 hit. But Lewis did appear to remind him.
"They're forcing me to talk. Twenty grand large," Johnson admitted, but that did nothing to stop him from embarking on a six-minute roll in which he said, among other things:
He denied a story that he came into training camp because the Bengals had promised to review his contract after the season even though it's not up until 2011.
"That's not how the NFL works," Johnson said. "I'm playing for free this year (because) all the (NFL and team) fines have backed up."
Asked if he's looking for a new deal, he said, "No. A new deal may be looking for me."
Reminded that he questioned the team's ability to win during the offseason, Johnson never blinked.
"Did I say that? At that time I was under medication," Johnson said. "I was seeking psychiatric help. I had a shrink. But now I'm cured. I'm 100 percent. I don't take AA classes anymore, so I'll be OK."
Johnson, who has been saying he's got something up his sleeve for the Sept. 7 opener in Baltimore, played dumb when he was asked about a ProFootballTalk.com report that he has legally begun the process to change his name to Chad Ocho Cinco.
"I don't know anything about a name change. My name is Chad Johnson," he said.
JohnsonHe is, of course, the man who made a name for himself with his offseason demands to get traded out of Cincinnati in a crusade that encompassed the sublime. It began with a Super Bowl tirade on radio row, seeped into his fifth Pro Bowl, and culminated with agent Drew Rosenhaus' telethon-like appeal to the club on the eve of the draft in an Internet video.
It stopped after the Bengals turned down what could have been two first first-round picks from the Redskins. And after a talk with Miami mentor Ray Lewis, the Ravens Hall of Fame middle linebacker.
"He really made me understand the position I'm in; how blessed I am," Johnson said. "I'm very fortunate. He had me look at it from a different direction. Not just being frustrated by the season, but from a different way. There are a lot people that want to play this game and they can't and I'm sitting here fussing about things I really can't control."
A big part of the fallout was his refusal to get his ankle scoped, something the club asked him to do right after the season so doctors could remove bone spurs as well as some loose bodies.
When Johnson showed up for the June mandatory minicamp, he was clearly not only rusty but he was also running gingerly and he had the procedure a few days later on June 18.
He returned to practice a week after camp began last Monday and had one catch for 10 yards in the preseason opener a week later in Green Bay. But Wednesday night looked to be the first night he was bobbing and weaving.
The most important part of Johnson's game is his burst and wizardry getting off the line of scrimmage. In one-on-ones Wednesday night, he used both to strafe Joseph on a long ball in what has become an intriguing and daily matchup of two of the top players in the NFL at their positions.
"He's one of the better corners in the league," Johnson said. "If he doesn't get credit for it, make sure the credit gets out there."
Joseph says Johnson is on his way back.
"I guess it takes awhile after ankle surgery," Joseph said. "But he's starting to look like he has. He's getting that burst again."
Johnson says he was 50 percent last week and 85 percent this week, but 25 percent last year during a season he shut off the Cincinnati media because of criticism aimed at his on-field outbursts and his part in the Bengals' poor start.
Since then, Johnson has been very critical of his own play even though he broke his own Bengals record for receiving yards with 1,440 yards. But he said it wasn't because of the 25-percent ankle.
"It was Carson's fault," he joked. "We weren't very consistent. We can do nothing but go up."
Johnson says he's going to have fun and go back to the days when he celebrated in the end zone.
"I'm going to block. Whatever they want me to do and then some," he said.
Even before he took a snap Wednesday, that was his mood as he wheeled around the field. Before practice he and quarterback Carson Palmer played the reaction game where one tries to pull his hands away before the other person slaps them. Palmer then snuck in a slap to the face and Johnson fell back laughing to the delight of the crowd.
When he looked up, Palmer was taking a snap from 340-pound Bobbie Williams and when Johnson got in a three-point stance across from him, Williams exploded into him and stood him up.
During a break in practice, Johnson spotted the husband and wife team of Pat and Jack Clary sitting together on a bench and asked if he could sit between them. Jack Clary, who helped write Bengals founder Paul Brown's autobiography and a former Boston newspaperman always looking for a story, obliged quickly.
"He put his arms around us and stayed for a few minutes and kept saying how much fun he was having," Pat Clary said. "Then he said, 'I have to go now.' "
Before he left for the night, Johnson was asked if he was going to a sixth Pro Bowl, which would tie him with cornerback Lemar Parrish with the second most in Bengals history.
"The Pro Bowl is sort of automatic," he said. "I'm really looking for the playoffs to become that way also. That's my focus right now."
Asked if this team could go to the playoffs, he said, "Actually, we're there."
Is that a guarantee?
"I can't do that," Johnson said. "Marvin is going to fine me."
Which is how this conversation began.