Johnson on Johnson

12-11-03, 4:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The man now known as Chad Johnson's cousin rather than Tampa Bay wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson stopped by to visit Paul Brown Stadium Thursday as a member of the Fox NFL Sunday studio team preparing a feature on the Bengals for this Sunday's show.

He pumped up Chad for the Pro Bowl, said he has no hard feelings for the Bucs even though head coach Jon Gruden exiled him out of the league for the last half of this season, and stamped down any rumors about him playing with the Bengals next season.

Yes, there is mutual admiration between Keyshawn and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, but Johnson said, "That's not even a thought. All options are open." But he also said, "I like Marvin Lewis as a head coach. He's forthcoming. He tells the truth. He doesn't try to be a guru."

Lewis took some ribbing from his assistant coaches with Keyshawn walking around ("Hey Marvin, did you get that 40 time?"), but he can't talk about him because he is still under contract with the Buccaneers. Yet, Lewis did talk to him on camera.

"He did a good job. I told him he's got a future in it if that's what he wants to do," Lewis said. "But he said not for another five years."

Chad said there is no way his cousin will be on the Bengals next season.

"Can't. There'd be to much controversy," Chad said. "There wouldn't be enough balls to go around. We couldn't have any running backs."

Word out of Tampa Bay is the Bucs are going to cut Keyshawn soon after the season, not wait until after June 1, and take his $6.5 million hit under the salary cap as soon as possible. That's going to free up Johnson, who turns 32 before training camp, to negotiate with any club after a season he averaged 13.3 yards per his 45 catches and three touchdowns.

But for the moment, Johnson is interviewing teams, and it's not the other way around.

Chad admitted it was tough keeping a straight face during the interview with Keyshawn, but he thought he got a good line back at him when he asked if Chad had any more guarantees.

"I told him I guaranteed he'd be back playing in the league for someone next year," Chad said.

For as brash and as bold as Keyshawn is, he said he never did what Chad did before the Bengals' game with the unbeaten Chiefs and guaranteed a victory."

"I don't demean the people I play against. You'll never find a quote saying I guaranteed anything or I mocked the team I'm playing against," Keyshawn said. "You'll never find that quote. If you find it, I've got some money for you."

But you can find plenty of quotes with him knocking Gruden even though Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl last season. It became so bad between the two that two days after the Bengals did indeed beat the Chiefs, Gruden sent Keyshawn home for the rest of a surprisingly grim season (currently 6-7) while citing, basically, conduct detrimental to the team.

"Communication is important," Keyshawn said. "We didn't have it for a year and a half and I allowed it to go last year on and in the Super Bowl," Keyshawn said. "I let it go away. I let it go again this year. I wasn't really worried about it. I went out there and did what I was supposed to do. I didn't dog it or anything like that. The sheer disappointment of the way it was unfolding gave them the window of opportunity for the organization and themselves to make a decision.

"There was not strong communication at all," Keyshawn said. "I never had that problem in my career . Everyone thought it was best for both parties to part ways, and go their separate ways. There's no ill will or bitter feelings. I won a Super Bowl. I put up numbers, I went to the Pro Bowl down there. I was on the verge of continuing to do the good things. But the communication got to the point where it shouldn't have."

Even before Keyshawn got sent packing, Chad called him two or three times week. Now, Keyshawn laughs and says it's even more because "I've got nothing to do." But his words must have meant something because Chad heard Keyshawn during last week's game in Baltimore when he was held to a season-low two catches for 15 yards.

Chad said he was so frustrated during the game that, "I wanted to pull a T.O. in. St. Louis. Go crazy on the sidelines. Throw the arms. Get mad. I mean, I really wanted to show them I was so mad," Chad said. "Key has talked to me all about the mental game. I know physically I can do it, but it's a matter of getting the mind games down. I was going to blow up, but then I looked at (quarterback Jon) Kitna and saw him keeping his poise and I said to myself, 'Follow you leader."'

Keyshawn has been known to pop off at offensive play callers on the sideline, but he has been trying to teach Chad about going for what you can get, and still contribute even when a team takes you away with a certain coverage.

"He'll obviously never be the blocker I am," Keyshawn said. "I'll never be the home-run hitter he is, but he'll never move the chains like me.

"He's a lot like me in that he's a sensitive player," Keyshawn said. "(When Chad gets frustrated), it's not because he wants to do it from an individual standpoint. He'll do it any way because if you throw him the ball, he'll get his catches. But he just wants to be able to help (his) team win."

Keyshawn said Chad is "on his way," and chalks up much of it to Lewis' confidence in him as a go-to-guy.

'That not only gives the player confidence," Keyshawn said, "but the other players confidence, too."

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