Johnson, Smith phone home

Posted: 6:20 a.m.

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Johnson

Chad Johnson is saying he can't be his mouthy self because the Bengals offense won't take those defenses by the throat that are blanketing him.

Steve Smith is telling him to relax. It's a compliment.

"Welcome to my life; quit complaining," is what Smith has been telling his friend. "Just got to work hard at it. There's nothing you can do, nothing you can change. He hasn't seen it as much as I have and it's evident by the conversation we had. He's shocked about it, which was really funny to me because he's an outstanding player. That's what they're going to do."

Smith's Carolina Panthers teammate and Chad cousin Keyshawn Johnson might have put it like, "Just give me the damn ball." The polite Chad on Wednesday just made it sound like, "Please give me the damn ball."

How do you refer to Johnson and Smith? The defending AFC and NFC receiving yardage champions, respectively? Or 1997 Santa Monica College teammates in JUCO ball?

When they meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium when the Bengals play the Super Bowl-hyped Panthers, their old college coach prefers to call them "friends."

"I didn't even know they were playing this week until you told me," said Robert Taylor on Wednesday from Santa Monica. "I've got my own team to worry about. People are going to ask me who am I rooting for? The Bengals or Panthers? I'm rooting for Chad Johnson and Steve Smith. For them to have good productive games and after the game is over to be healthy and be able to shake hands and say, 'Remember when...?' "

Oh, they remember when.

"Oh man, who's this cat?" Smith wondered when he first met Johnson. "Because he was from Florida, being in L.A., his mentality, his style, he looked like a tourist. He still does when he goes back home."

But Smith considers Johnson a true friend because they have stayed the way they were. After Smith broke his leg in 2004, he said Johnson called him every couple of weeks saying, "I know you're down. You'll bounce back."

"Competitors don't do that; friends do that," Smith told Wednesday's conference call with the Cincinnati media.

Friends talk on the phone the week they play, which is what Johnson and Smith are doing. Johnson talked in the locker room Wednesday, and admitted he's so subdued this season because the Bengals offense is subdued.

He says he could try and revive the Bengals with some good old fashioned Chad mouth-to-mouth-to-mouth and that he could probably set a tone, but he says, "I don't feel it."

"I can't be the aggressor when my approach and my game out there on Sunday is not as aggressive," he said. "It's just not matching up. I don't know when I go out there on Sunday we're going to be the aggressor. ..(If he talks trash) I'll just be a sitting duck. It will be decoration."

Smith has sensed his friend's frustration about the constant coverage. If anyone knows about that, it's Smith.

"You just have to tweak some things, play with things," Smith said. "You've got to add some extra moves to your arsenal."

Smith thinks he was fortunate that while Johnson pretty much enjoyed instant success, he had to "wait his turn," and had a solid mentor in Muhsin Muhammad.

"On the way to the Super Bowl (in 2003), there'd be one game I'd have 150 yards and next week I'd have 30 and Muhsin would have 150. I've been on that roller coaster. I had a mentor that guided me in the right direction, so when it happened, it's almost like de ja vu for me. I'm prepared for it."

But the fairly reasoned and somewhat clinical Oct. 18 Declaration of Chad Day was far removed from the emotional outburst in the locker room at halftime of the Pittsburgh playoff loss. When Johnson visited campus back in the spring, Taylor was quite impressed with his maturity.

While they sat on the wall outside the athletic building and students periodically stopping to gawk at Chad Johnson, Taylor listened closely.

"He told me he knew I probably heard what happened at halftime and he just wanted me to know it wasn't the way it sounded," Taylor said. "I just told him to play his heart out and he's a smart guy. Don't let people judge you. He's not the guy you see on the NFL channel doing all those commercials. He's a good guy."

Taylor is the one guy who knows how far Johnson and Smith have come. Asked if he gets razzed for going 6-4 with a team that had two future Pro Bowl receivers, Taylor said, "Yeah, but I tell people they weren't getting $38 to $40 million to play back then. They were on a federally financed education and they would hit me up every day for hamburger money."

Well, not Smith because he worked at Taco Bell. But Johnson ... that was back when even his beloved McDonald's was a little too high brow.

"Chad must have got me for about 100 hamburgers at Carl's Jr., right here on campus," Taylor said.

Which is just another reason why Johnson is so hungry to get the ball.

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