Push is on

Posted: 1 p.m.

The thrust of the Tank Johnson signing has been how he'll help on the pass rush,  but Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes is quick to remind people that not only can he play all three downs, he pretty much did it in this defense.

"There is absolutely no concern with him playing the run. He's a physical guy that can drive a spike right up in there whether it's the A gap or B gap," Hayes said Thursday. "He understands the defense. It's similar to the one he played in Chicago. He has a great understanding of what we're doing."

The 6-3, 300-pound Johnson met the Cincinnati media for the first time Thursday and as if to underscore the old school idea of playing all three snaps, he showed up wearing black high-top sneakers as he explored again the general themes that have surrounded his signing:

How the move to a 4-3 defense complements his one-gap game. How his off-field issues in Chicago are behind him after two years of rebuilding his career. How he had interest from other teams but chose the Bengals because of their youth and talent.

The man who once stood in the glare of a Super Bowl Media Day to take questions about his personal life smiled when someone asked him about lockering between the punter and long snapper.

"No drama here," he said.

But it is a dramatic move on a line that has struggled getting push up the middle. While Hayes emphasized Johnson's physical play ("He doesn't really look six feet because his back and chest are so thick"), Johnson talked about how important it is for a defense to get speedy penetration up the middle.

"Knowing football as much as I know football," he said, "I don't care if you have a world-class guy on the edge. It takes all four guys up front to make one guy successful. The most important thing is getting defensive tackle play for the ends because those guys end up beating their guy and the quarterback steps up, or he dips around and the numbers aren't there. But when you have a defensive line that has talent on the inside as well as the outside, it frees up everybody."

Hayes also knows Johnson's versatility stretches to positions. He can play both tackle spots – the Three technique in which he's shaded on the guard and the Shade technique in which he shades the center – because he did it in Chicago's 4-3 and Dallas' 3-4.

"Playing over the center is more controlled; there is more freedom in the Three as a penetrator and two-way go," Hayes said. "He's done both, but right now we want him to concentrate on playing the Three."

And Hayes believes this guy knows football. At 27 and five years in the game that come with an eight-game suspension for the violation of probation stemming from gun charges, Johnson says he's ready to assume the role of guys he followed in Chicago.

"Guys like Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown and guys like that taught us how to play the game," he said, recalling how he and fellow tackle Tommie Harris got "thrown into the fire."

"I'm in the role now where I don't mind being a leader," Johnson said. "I don't mind letting guys understanding where I'm coming from. I think I've earned that. I look forward to playing with these guys and winning some ballgames."

Johnson hasn't been back to the playoffs since he helped the Bears get to the Super Bowl in 2006, but he knows what has to happen.

"Attrition is the main thing," he said. "This league has such a small margin of talent, it's a matter of who you have healthy. If we keep guys healthy, we'll be as competitive as anybody."

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