The newest Bengal, Larry Johnson, speaks during his introductory press conference on Tuesday. (Bengals photo)
Updated: 10:15 p.m.
His agent describes Larry Johnson as a football historian and when it came to a pop quiz on his new team, he passed with flying orange and black.
Asked Tuesday what he knew about the franchise, Johnson quickly churned out, "The coach here also coached Jimmy Brown and Ernie Davis in Cleveland."
Marvin Lewis, the current Bengals head coach who is four wins away from passing Paul Brown into second place on the club's all-time list, is calling on history as he welcomes the star-crossed Johnson to his team. But it's a little more recent.
Running back Cedric Benson was chased out of Chicago last year as a scourge to the franchise and this year he's an MVP candidate for the 7-2 Bengals. Johnson showed up Tuesday after virtually getting heaved out of Kansas City at the fans' insistence after some embarrassing Twitter episodes and is now two-time Pro Bowl insurance for the nicked-up Benson.
"It's important for our team to embrace Larry and help him through this transition as I talked to Ced about," Lewis said at Johnson's introductory news conference Tuesday. "I don't want to say mentor because he's got more years in the league than Ced does, but Ced has been through what Larry's about to."
Maybe more than anybody knows. When Benson showed up last Sept. 30, he had missed all of training camp but five days later in Dallas he ran for 30 yards on 10 carries. Lewis didn't rule out the same for Johnson this Sunday in Oakland.
"This might be a little easier situation because Ced had been sitting at home for two months and Larry has been home for only two weeks," Lewis said. "This will be a little easier transition. I'm not going to say it can't happen, I'm not going to say it will happen, but stay tuned. He'd like to play, I know that."
If Benson broke the NFL record for most yards by a running back against his old team last month with 189 in the win over the Bears, then did Johnson just set a record by getting the most yards against his new team? He has the fifth-most yards ever against them with 201 on the playoff-bound Bengals in the Jan. 1, 2006 game in Arrowhead.
Benson said Tuesday if he can't play Sunday with his strained hip abductor, he'll be able to go against Cleveland Nov. 29. Johnson is just glad to have a chance to go after being suspended for a week earlier this month and then cut by the Chiefs for ripping his coach and slurring gays on Twitter.
Johnson, who also suspended by the NFL last year after two altercations with women in nightclubs, called his seven-game contract a chance "to right some of my wrongs."
Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, says the Bengals fit his client's wish list.
"He was looking for a good team with an established coaching staff that has a chance to play past January," Schaffer said. "He's willing to do whatever it takes to do that. Special teams, whatever. He's looking to reestablish himself on and off the field."
On Tuesday, Johnson indicated he felt he suffered from being a big star in a small market where "every little thing I say is going to be blown up to mythical proportions," and the change of scenery was sought by both sides.
But he also said the gay slur was out of line.
"It was offensive to gay advocates around the world," he said. "It just shows me not everything you say is meant to say in the open or even privately when you're having a conversation. It's not used to try and belittle someone. Obviously you're hurting everybody's feelings when you do that, so it was a lesson learned."
Johnson also wants to clear up some misconceptions about a career that has been derailed since he went to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2006 with 1,700-yard seasons. The biggest, he believes?
"The whole cancer in the locker room thing," Johnson said. "I never broke up a team or a locker room or anything like that. I've been a locker-room player guy first. All the younger guys used to come up to me and sit by my locker. I used to organize my locker to sit where the rookies were so I could talk to them more than a lot of the veteran guys. There are certain things I've done in the locker room that most media people or most coaches don't really see."
Funny he should mention it because there is the concern that the arrival of such a volatile personality is going to spoil the Bengals' rich chemistry that has the potential to fuel the best 10-game start in club history since Paul Brown's 1975 team went 8-2.
But Johnson said he'll fit in because he wants to be known more for football than celebrity.
"I (have the opportunity) to be a little more about football than what I'm saying and what I'm doing off the field," he said. "I think being here in this situation with a lot of great guys and a lot of great players, I'll be able to get involved getting back in the locker room, getting back in the team, being able to gel with these guys and have fun doing it. Having fun winning and what they're doing here.
"I've known Chad (Ochocinco) for a couple of years. I know Carson (Palmer) from the whole Heisman thing," said Johnson, who finished third in 2002 when Palmer won it. "You know a lot of the players walking through the locker room. I didn't know they had so many Johnsons on this football team. I know I'm bound to be related to one of them."
For the record, Larry is the fifth Johnson, the sixth counting The Ocho: Brandon, Jeremi, Michael and Tank.
The word is that he bristled under the tight Parecellian rein of new Chiefs head coach Todd Haley and on Tuesday he admitted he was excited about playing for a good coach and getting a fresh start.
He came into the season with a 4.5 yards career per average and the Bengals wonder if his 2009 numbers of 377 yards on 132 carries are because he turns 30 on Thursday or if, as Johnson says, it's because the Chiefs offense is burdened by injuries on the offensive line and changing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
Think Corey Dillon, circa 2000. The quotes could have been the same of a frustrated Pro Bowler looking for some help.
Johnson has never been right since that 416-carry season in 2006, which is where Benson was headed before his injury. Johnson insists his broken foot that robbed him of seven games in '07 is fine, and his back-to-back seasons of 752 carries shows his toughness and downhill tendencies at 23.5 carries per those 32 games of '05 and '06.
He couldn't hide his admiration for Benson or the Bengals philosophy. Even though Benson had just seven carries Sunday in Pittsburgh, his 205 carries leads the NFL.
"From what I've seen Cedric do, it's been a long time since I've seen somebody carry the ball over 35, 36 times," Johnson said. "Being in this situation I know they go with what works. If the run is working they'll run it. If the pass is working they'll pass. It was great to see Cedric get out there and really prove this organization is a running organization."
He has been closeted the past two days with running backs coach Jim Anderson, the dean of NFL assistant coaches who has seen all kinds. OK, maybe Johnson has 30 career 100-yard games, but Anderson has coached 43 in this decade alone.
The 6-1 Johnson doesn't look like his listed 230 pounds, but 220 is probably about right. He's put together, though, and it looks like he'd have no trouble running the Bengals zone plays.
"He can do what we do. He's a tough guy who runs right at you," Anderson said. "You don't know what's going to happen Sunday or how practice goes this week. The first thing you have to do is teach him the fundamentals of the offense. Then you give him the game plan. You can't overwhelm him. You can't give him the whole thing. The nice thing about it is that he likes football and he's smart and he wants to do well."
On Tuesday, Johnson was smart enough to admit what had happened in Kansas City. "The relationship soured," he said, and he didn't blame the fans for the petition that called for his release before he set the franchise's all-time rushing record.
"They're entitled to their opinion," Johnson said. "They care about Chiefs football and that's what they're about. Whether I was there or Barry Word was there. I understand where they were coming from."
No question. Johnson knows his history. But he does have a future date circled: Dec. 27. Bengals-Chiefs. At the stadium named for the coach who coached Jimmy Brown and Ernie Davis.
"I'd be lying if I said I ain't looking at that game as a game I definitely want to play in," Johnson said. "You take one game at a time, one situation at a time. I'm just trying to get on the field as of right now. If that happens, that'd be the best Christmas gift I could get."
As one Bengal said about the move, "If Ced's OK with it, I'm OK with it."
So far, so good.
"I'm sure they do things with all the intentions of contributing to the team in a positive way. If that's what surfaces, then this is a great thing," Benson said after signing autographs Tuesday at the Bengals Pro Shop in PBS.
"I don't see it as any type of threat," he said. "It's great to have the guy come in. It's only going to make me work harder. Even harder than I normally do. I'm all for it."
Benson says the strain in his abductor (hip area) is better and that if he can't play this week in Oakland, he'll be able to play the week after against the Browns at home.
"It's not a major thing," he said. "It may take one week to get ready, but not two. Hopefully I'll be ready this Sunday. I need to focus on it and let it get healed so I can hit the ground full speed."
Even though he had just 22 yards on seven carries Sunday in Pittsburgh while trying to play through the pain before being taken out at halftime, he's just 141 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.
"Once the hip is ready, I'm gone," he said. "I'm running all the way to Miami and the Super Bowl."
In order to make room for Johnson on their roster, the Bengals on Tuesday waived second-year defensive tackle Orien Harris. Harris, traded for running back Brian Leonard in May, was re-signed Oct. 20 and played in one game.