Off and running

Posted: 5:50 a.m.

The way Rudi Johnson sees it every team needs a running back like him. Not the guy who was hurt last year, but the guy who led the ground game to the AFC North title in 2005.

"You always have to have a dog that eats," Johnson says. "The dog sets the tempo and the dog closes the tempo."

Finally Sunday night at 7:35 p.m. the Bengals let all the dogs out when Johnson is supposed to make his '08 debut and running back Chris Perry makes his first appearance on the turf in two years when the Lions open the Paul Brown Stadium preseason.

Throw four-time Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson into the mix with his first appearance of the season and that running game the Bengals talked about emphasizing during the offseason could be heartily on display.

If every team needs a dog that eats, then the '05 Bengals, the only team that ever had a healthy Perry, proved it's nice when a team has someone setting the table.

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Johnson

"Any questions, go back to '05," Johnson said of his joint operating agreement with Perry, "and see how it worked. See how he was able to come in and make plays and keep the chains moving. It opened it for everybody. He came in and gave everybody a great opportunity. The ball was spread around. I broke records that year. Chad broke records that year. T.J. had a breakout year. When you've got so many weapons, you need opportunities. And the only way to do it is to make first down on third down."

Perry, coming off an encouraging Monday night in Green Bay as the club's leading rusher with 42 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown in his first outing since dislocating his ankle nearly two years ago, is simply grateful for getting the chance to convert despair into hope.

"Chris Perry is an inspiration to guys, but even he'd be the first to tell you not to get too excited," Anderson said. "We've seen him do this in the spring and in training camp, so it was kind of validation. But it's only a preseason game. If a guy didn't play well, you wouldn't count him out, either."

Perry, the Bengals 2004 first-round pick who has carried just 73 times since, admits there were times he wondered if he'd ever be able to regain the speed and cutting that set him apart.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," he says. "I put my faith in God, took one day at a time and I went back to the other injuries I had. I know it's kind of weird to say that, but I've always come back from whatever I've had.

"I knew it wasn't because I wasn't working hard or because I wasn't putting in the time, or that I was out of shape. It was things that were out of my control and you have to spend time worrying about things you can control and for me that was getting back on the field."

And there was Courtney, the girl he'd been dating since his freshman year at Michigan.

"She was the one who was there for me when nobody else was around," Perry says. "I couldn't have done it without her. We talked about everything. She told me things that helped me through it."

They wed during the summer and now Bengaldom is married to the idea that Perry's athleticsm is going to give the offense a spice that has been missing on the perimeter since he got hurt.

When the Bengals drafted Perry, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was miffed. He thought the Bengals should have gone for his fellow Oregon State alum Steven Jackson and believed Perry was just a product of Big Ten hype.

Until he saw him play. And Houshmandzadeh has seen the same ability the last couple of weeks that he saw when Perry opened his eyes three years ago.

"I said, 'Damn.' He can score from anywhere on the field and you need that," Houshmandzadeh says. "He showed he's still got the quickness and ability to cut and he showed the power when he ran over the safety in the end zone. He can do everything a premier running back does. If he can stay healthy, the sky's the limit.

"As a receiver, you know if you get the safety blocked, you get him an edge, it can be a touchdown every time. He's a good mix with Rudi. Rudi is the power guy. Chris can make you miss."

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Perry

Perry has lived a lot in 26 years. He felt he should have been playing in Ann Arbor earlier than he did and had some publicized disagreements with the coaching staff. His mother beat cancer. He nearly missed all of his first training camp with a holdout. Because of a shocking array of injuries, he's been able to play in only 22 of a possible 64 games.

"I guess I've been preparing for this my whole life because things have happened to me beyond my control," Perry says. "Before I got here. There were things at Michigan I couldn't control. The drama there. Feeling like you should be playing when you're not. God gives you stepping stones and prepares you for what you can't control."

The Bengals feel like they can control their recommitment to the running game.

Anderson says offensive line coach Paul Alexander has been emphasizing finishing the blocks and annoying defenders "with that little extra push at the end of a play that they hate."

Johnson is emphasizing the new power in his legs. He says the hamstring injury that shelved him for two weeks before he came back Wednesday had nothing to do with the hamstring injury that limited him to just 2.9 yards per carry in nine starts.

"It was fatigue from all the running in the two-a-days," Johnson said of the first week of camp. "It was just a cramp that tightened, that's all. If it wasn't as strong as it was, who knows how bad it would have been?"

Perry is emphasizing it's the same day at a time he took on the rehab trail.

"Let's get through Detroit," he says, "and see where it is."

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