Right end Michael Johnson, otherwise known as the club's franchise player, surfaced at Paul Brown Stadium this week for the first time this year and nothing has changed. He still calls you "Sir," you still have to crane your neck to hear his hushed observations, and he's still shrugging about contract years.
"I'm going to do the same thing I did last year," he said of his career 11.5-sack season. "Just go out and work hard and that stuff will take care of itself. Work hard week in and week out and if this team wins, everything will be straight."
Johnson finished up his 10 credits of work this semester at Georgia Tech last week, leaving him three classes shy of his business administration degree, and the last exam couldn't come soon enough.
"I was ready to come back last month," he said of the start of offseason workouts. "It was really a challenge for me to stay focused. It was real hard to study. I wanted to be back with them."
Last offseason was literally big for Johnson because he bulked up about eight to 10 pounds to get to between 270 and 275 pounds. He says that's where he is now and is focusing this offseason's work on movement.
"I'm still doing still the same stuff, but this year I'm working on more flexibility; staying loose and being mobile for as many weeks as we play," he said.
Which means hooking up with left end Robert Geathers for some yoga. Johnson took a hot yoga class at Tech during the evenings and found it fairly grueling as well as beneficial. "You had to keep from passing out," he said.
FITTING HARRISON: The Bengals signed James Harrison for a variety of reasons, ranging from pass-rushing depth to intangibles.
But maybe the least-discussed element, putting him at SAM linebacker, made the most sense. The Bengals needed an upgrade there after the departure of Manny Lawson, a guy that never seemed all that comfortable at that spot after playing over the tackle in San Francisco and the Bengals rarely asked him to rush the passer.
What the Bengals feel they are getting in Harrison is a former 3-4 outside backer that can do the things they need a 4-3 SAM backer to do better than what has transpired over the past two years, as well as give them another edge rusher.
The independent numbers would suggest that the Bengals have improved overall at that spot while finding a physical guy that can set the edge against the run. Pro Football Focus rated Harrison 10th among 3-4 outside bakers last season while Lawson was 29th among 4-3 outside backers with Harrison third against the run and Lawson 21st. While Harrison was rated last in coverage, Lawson was in the bottom 10. Plus, Harrison has 15 sacks over the past two seasons compared to Lawson's 3.5.
"We all feel good about how he rushes the passer, obviously," linebackers coach Paul Guenther said of Harrison. "He's done the same coverage stuff that he did in Pittsburgh that he'll do here. Just a little difference in terminology and sight lines."
Harrison didn't put on a show in Tuesday's news conference. He is that serious about it all. Since he arrived Monday, Guenther says Harrison has been one of the first guys in the building in the morning because he gets his workout and treatment out of the way before heading upstairs to spend at least an hour with him one-on-one going over the defense as they prep for field work in the afternoon.
"He just has to get used to how we want it done, not how he did it before; that's the main difference," Guenther said. "You try to assimilate the system with his terminology until he fully gets ours. 'This equals that,' until he can really grasp it."
CORNER STAMPEDE:** Two Bengals cornerbacks are doing things this spring they've never done since arriving in Cincinnati. Adam Jones is squatting in the weight room and Dre Kirkpatrick is moving pain-free.
Irony of ironies, Jones hasn't squatted weight since Harrison herniated his neck disk while returning a punt for Dallas five years ago. Then he suffered the same injury during his first season in Cincinnati in 2010.
After squatting 396 pounds recently, Jones said head strength coach Chip Morton waved him off when he went for 405 pounds but he thinks he could have done it. Plus, he's delighted he's been able to rep 255 pounds three times after not benching for a year. With the strength of a three-year deal under him, Jones confirmed it's the best he's felt as a Bengal.
"I feel unbelievable," he said. "I'm running faster, I'm working hard and I know the defense like the back of my hand, so I don't have to think while I'm out there. It's just all reaction. I'm out catching punts every day. I feel good, man."
But he's aware of the hamstring and calf twinges that kept him off the field in the last preseason before he put together his best year as a pro. "I've just got make sure I'm drinking enough water to stay hydrated," Jones said.
Meanwhile, don't expect to see Kirkpatrick in team drills until the opening of training camp in late July as he recovers from knee surgery designed to ease the bone spurs that pretty much wiped out his rookie season.
But in between his rehab, Kirkpatrick is doing some individual drills with the defensive backs that have pleased his coaches.
"It's the best he's moved since he's been here," said secondary coach Mark Carrier. "It's amazing what you can do when you don't have any pain. Remember, he's been hurt pretty much since he's been here, so he really looks good so far."
Kirkpatrick, one of last year's two first-round picks, says even though he won't be involved with the defense on the field in May and June, he feels like he already has a better grasp of it and is ahead of last season.
"I'm a year into the game now so I feel like I'm a year better now," he said. "I'll be ready. Going out there sometimes on Friday, me and Leon (Hall are) getting extra reps. He's teaching me, I'm learning from him. Just learning fundamentals right now."
Speaking of first-round picks, Jones got a load of tight end Tyler Eifert when he roamed around rookie minicamp last Saturday morning.
"I didn't see him drop a ball when he was out there. He made a one-handed catch and I said God—excuse my French—it was a bad ball," Jones said. "He reached all the way back, one hand, didn't even break stride and kept running."