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No. 1 back job on line

Updated: 7 p.m.

In order for Rudi Johnson to regain the Bengals starting running back spot, Marvin Lewis says he has to show "he's a better ballplayer" than Chris Perry when the Bengals play their preseason finale Thursday night in Indianapolis.

"We'll see," said Lewis, who didn't hide his impatience with Johnson's lack of practice time last week because of a hamstring injury.

Johnson isn't so sure Thursday matters and doubts he'll be here for the Sept. 7 opener in Baltimore. Although there seems to be no trade imminent, the ESPN report that the Bengals are shopping him for a wide receiver has convinced him he's headed out of town.


Rudi Johnson

But Peter Schaffer, Johnson's agent, said Tuesday afternoon that he has talked to the club and has no indication that the Bengals want to deal Johnson. And the Bengals are acting like the running back derby is going to decide some things for The Seventh.

"He's still working, fighting for a job just like everybody else is, right? That's the way it is," Lewis said. "This is his first chance this year. I haven't seen (him), so that's the big thing. That's the thing I think I told you guys about last year. We counted on some guys who weren't able to do much in the preseason, and they didn't necessarily come through with flying colors.

"I think that's important for where we are this year as a team, particularly that we see and have a feel for that. If you enter the season a little beat up and injured, it can take a toll on you as you go down the road. Sometimes you may have no choice. I wish (Rudi) had been able to play last week, but hopefully this week he'll be able to show us that he's ready to go."

There is no one who has more pride in the Bengals locker room than the guy who has twice set the club's season rushing record. So, predictably, the trade report stung him.

"It's imminent to me," Johnson said after Tuesday's practice. "They've been trying to get me out of here for years. Since I first got here. That's why nothing surprises me and I'm not worried. Every year. It night not happen. Every year."

Johnson says he doesn't think he'll be here, but if he is he says it will be business as usual.

"It doesn't bother me. It's no big deal. I'll still do the same thing. It's part of the business," Johnson said. "I'm not mad. I'm not worried."

Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2001, had to fight for a roster spot in 2002 and 2003 behind Corey Dillon before supplanting Dillon as the No. 1 back in the midde of the '03 season. Ironically, it was Dillon's groin pull that gave Johnson his chance, but the Bengals still took Michigan running back Chris Perry in the 2004 first round.

Now Johnson is the established back with the muscle problems. One hamstring injury limited him to 2.9 yards per carry in just 11 games last year and another one wiped out pretty much his entire training camp this year until the last two days of practice.

The offseason storyline had been how Johnson had built his body back to '04 and '05 form with an extra 10-15 pounds enhancing his leg strengthening program. On Tuesday, Johnson vowed he's as fresh as ever.

"Looking forward to it. A little sore but I feel good," he said. "Of course, my legs are fresh. That's a good thing."

Johnson admitted he wants to be "where I'm wanted," but despite the ESPN report it doesn't look like he's going anywhere. Perry, with 30 carries for 101 yards this preseason, has had only one healthy year.



"(Rudi) would have to come in and show that he is a better ball carrier and everything else that we ask that position to do than Chris," Lewis said. "Also, to see if he can withstand the pounding."

Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh practiced for the second straight day as they recover from their hamstring problems and the consensus is they're expected to play at Indy's new Lucas Oil Stadium.

Lewis also said that wide receiver Chad Johnson (shoulder) and right end Antwan Odom (foot) will practice Monday as the Bengals prep for the opener. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe (knee) won't, which probably means he won't play in Baltimore but Lewis indicated he's recovering quickly.

Another safety, Dexter Jackson, sprained his ankle Monday and was in a boot Tuesday but is expected to practice next Monday for the opener.

The Bengals were about as healthy as they've been this summer with right end Eric Henderson (unknown ailment) and starting SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty (leg) back working with the defense and Odom and Ndukwe working with the strength staff.

Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer (nose) weren't dressed but both won't play in Indy. Palmer said he wasn't scheduled to work even before he broke his nose Saturday against the Saints because of the short week.

Johnson ran some routes with special teams coach and former Kansas punter Darrin Simmons throwing and director of rehab Nick Cosgray acting as a defender using a blocking pad.

Lewis said he's not ready to put rookie receiver Jerome Simpson in Canton yet, but he's going to at least put him in Baltimore Sept. 7. Lewis made it sound like Simpson is his third receiver because "he's going to get a significant number of snaps. ... If we have 80 offensive plays, I hope he gets 20 and we run the ball the other 60."



Lewis would have been rolling his eyes if he saw how Johnson playfully wrestled briefly with Houshmandzadeh standing up in front of their adjoining lockers. Considering Johnson is one hit away from season-ending surgery.

Despite the Chad Hold, Houshmandzadeh said he didn't have any pain in his hamstring Tuesday. But he's not as decisive about his desire to play Thursday night.

The Colts traditionally start most of the guys they're going to cut the next day in their preseason finale and with Palmer not playing, why bother, since he's the guy he has to get timed up with?

"That's my opinion," Houshmandzadeh said. "My whole life I always did what I wanted to do.But there comes a point in time where you get a job and you have to do what the other people tell you to do."

That means Lewis would no doubt like him to take some snaps and he's willing.

"I want to play," he said. "Practicing and then not playing, that's boring."

Lewis' official take at Wednesday's news conference on both the health of Rudi Johnson and Houshmandzadeh was, "I'm going to play that by ear, let my eyes work and do it that way. We'll see how things go. They've been able to practice, get through the practices and do pretty well."

Which means Houshmandzadeh is going to end up getting timed up with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, making his first preseason start in his four NFL seasons.

"Fitz can play," Houshmandzadeh said. "If he ever gets the chance to play, he'll be a star. He can run and he can throw."

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