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Connecting again

Updated: 8-5-08, 6:15 a.m.

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - The play didn't count. But the karma did.

Carson Palmer said he had middle linebacker Dhani Jones' helmet in his Adam's apple when he unleashed what looked to be all of a 65-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson streaking past cornerback Leon Hall Monday night at Georgetown College.

"Sack," Palmer said. "We didn't pick it up. But the defense did a good job disguising it at the last minute. It's something we usually don't do, but we'll get it, though."

Palmer shrugged at the precision downfield.



Second practice for Johnson. Only the third time together on the field this year for Palmer and Johnson because of Johnson's trade demands and the arthroscopic ankle surgery that took them out of their annual passing camp last month on the West Coast.

Not only that, but their third time on the field since there was clearly tension between the two during the awkward offseason. After once reading a Palmer quote, Johnson phoned ESPN to tell him, "Stay out of my business." Palmer vowed Johnson and no one would break up the locker room.

But now the Packers and Brett Favre are huddled in a controversy so huge it makes L'Affaire Chad look like a wrong route.

"No comparison," Palmer said of the Favre Feud in Green Bay. "People think there's been an issue with Chad and I and there's no issue."

They make it easy to believe. They talk on the field. Johnson walked over to practice Monday night in a big group that included Carson's brother Jordan. Carson and Johnson fooled around with a soccer ball just before practice with Palmer drilling a shot past Chad in goal.

Certainly there has never been an issue about their ability to complete the deep ball. Indeed, both believe it has to happen more than it did last year. Once upon a time Johnson either led or contended for the NFL title for most 40-yard catches. He won it in '05 with eight. Last year he had just four of them, his fewest 40 plusses with Palmer and his lowest since 2002.



"Six years. We've been doing it for six years. It shouldn't be a surprise when we connect," Palmer said. "We've got to do it every time. And we will get better every day, every practice."

If you're looking for reasons it didn't happen, maybe start with the ankle. Johnson says he's needed surgery on it for three years, which must be news to Hall. Hall is in his second year covering Johnson and he believes Johnson's speed and ability have played a big part in the secondary's development.

"Especially when you get T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) in there and you've got two of the best," Hall said. "I do a lot of work with T.J. in the slot and that has really helped me. And you've got a guy like Chad. Even when Chad struggles, he's better than a lot of the receivers. Whether it's his first day back or 30th back, Chad will be there."

Hall smiled when asked if the Bengals were a better team with Johnson or without him and if he felt he was a distraction.

"Better, of course, you see what he can do," Hall said. "As for me and the guys I know, he hasn't been a distraction."

Hall was still shaking his head on the bomb after practice.

"Max protection, so they're going to have time even though we're blitzing," Hall said. "As a corner, you have to realize that. He gave it a double move. It won't take him very long to get back."

Indeed, Johnson appeared refreshed and rejuvenated after that first practice Monday morning. Wearing sweat pants in the 88-degree heat of the 7 p.m. workout (supplied officially by assistant trainer Brian Dykhuizen's on-field contraption), Johnson wore long sweat pants and made some sharp cuts and catches inside, particularly on one comeback route.

But it was the long ball that ignited his post-practice chatter Monday night.

"It's going to take me the month of August to do what it takes everybody else four or five months to do," Johnson said. "It's going to be the best year ever."

Monday night was a relatively light workout, except for special teams. But Johnson admitted he felt refreshed after struggling a bit Monday morning.

"But it was my first time back in four, five months," Johnson said. "I'm smoking. It felt like '03, '04, '05. My foot is right. I'm back. I'm focused. I'm working. I'm talking trash. When I hit the field, it's like Leon and J-Joe (Johnathan Joseph) are invisible. The entire defense is my enemy.

"I'm so glad to be back out there with those boys. They're getting in my head. Leon's talking to me. J-Joe's talking to me. Dexter (Jackson) is trying to knock my head off. They're cutting me no slack. They don't care about no ankle. If I get beat up, they're in my chest. If I kill them, I'm going to let you know I killed them."

Johnson got so excited that he did something he rarely does and stopped himself in mid-sentence.

"This year is going to be the reinvention of Ocho Cinco," he said. "I owe Carson. I owe Coach Brat (offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski). I owe Coach Lew (Marvin Lewis). I owe Mike Brown. I owe every fan that I made mad. I've got to stop. I could talk all night. You get the point."

Johnson walked to the Bengals' second practice of the day Monday night wearing a hat. Of all things, a Paul Brown-like porkpie lid.

"This one is for Paul Brown. I've got a lot of these. It's what I'm going to wear this year," Johnson said.

He also hopes to be wearing his jersey next Monday night in Green Bay even though it marks only a week since he's been back on the ankle that was scoped June 18 to remove bone spurs.

"This is what I live for. This is why I'm happy. This is why I love practicing," said Johnson, alluding to the Packers cornerbacks. "The reward is I get Charles Woodson and Al Harris. That's my reward at the end of all the hard work."

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