Michael Johnson back in Cincy.
Remember when the Bengals drafted West Virginia defensive end Will Clarke in the third round in 2014, barely a month after they had lost Michael Johnson to free agency? Clarke was promptly christened "a Michael Johnson Clone," and even given his number at right end on the defensive front.
Now that Johnson is back after a year exile in Tampa with his new No. 90, he can see the comparisons with the new No. 93.
"He definitely works hard," Johnson says. "He's versatile. He can play more inside than I did. He's very coachable and he fits in with the culture of our locker room, which I think is very important.
"He listens. He's very coachable, and that's good. Any time you have somebody that's willing to listen and learn, that's what you want. "
Which is why it's such a boon to have Johnson back. When it comes to locker room culture, Johnson is one of the leading lights. Funny, smart, committed, Johnson held court for 20 minutes with the media before Friday's first practice and explained why we now have the bald Michael Johnson. He has gone from the dreadlocks to the '70s wave and he knows when to usher in a new era.
"Fresh start," said Johnson, who revealed it was for pragmatic reasons. "The guy that cuts my hair in Selma – I was home and needed to get it hacked and my barber from Atlanta was out of town – so he hadn't cut my hair since high school and he pushed my line back too far. So I got back up here in Cincinnati, talking to my barber I said 'Can you fix it.' He's like 'Yeah,' and here we are. We're starting over.
"I've seen a couple of different looks. My mom will tell you I like to switch it up. She didn't like the long hair. She doesn't like this either. So switch it up. It'll grow back throughout the year. I'll let my line back."
And he's back on a line with three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, which is also a very good thing. And forget the numbers that they've combined for more than 30 sacks in their last 25 games together. Atkins doesn't even talk much to his coaches, but he talks to Johnson.
"Geno's an intelligent guy. Very, very intelligent, he said, catching the eye of Duke's Vincent Rey. " I know all those Georgia SEC guys don't get all the respect the academic ACC, Georgia Tech guys get like myself. But no, Geno's a very intelligent guy, man. Great football player and he's a deep, deep guy. Go up to him and have conversations on stuff outside of football, you'll learn a lot more about him than what I can tell you. Talk to him. Don't make the question about football. Talk about other stuff. Because we do have lives outside of this."
Told the media has tried just about everything to get Atkins to talk, Johnson suggested, "
Ask who Winnie is? … That's his dog."
For a lot of reasons, the Bengals are glad to have Johnson back.
NUGENT EYES BREECH: Mike Nugent, who grew up watching the Bengals, begins his sixth season as their kicker with an innocent observation after he is told he is quietly climbing the club record books.
"I don't know how long (Jim) Breech here," Nugent says before Saturday's practice.
Told the club's leading scorer (1,151) was here 13 seasons, the 33-year-old Nugent shrugged.
"I'm in my 11th overall. You never know," he said. "Got to take care of the body and keep the ball straight."
Nugent says he'd love to kick beyond 40 and that would certainly make a run at Breech. After five seasons, Nugent needs 41 points and 10 field goals to pass Horst Muhlmann to move into fourth place in those categories behind the kickers of the '80s (Breech), '90s (Doug Pelfrey) and '00s (Shayne Graham) with 550 and 120, respectively.
"When I hear names like that, I've always thought when you're in one place for a long time you feel like you're doing something right," Nugent said. "Hopefully a dependable kind of guy. It would be great as you keep climbing on a list like that."
Nugent doesn't really have any competition in this training camp. They are getting a look at rookie free agent Tom Obarski of Concordia-St. Paul in Minnesota, but that's for their list keeping more than anything. Nugent is coming off a year he hit 15 of his last 16 field-goal tries before ending his season with a career-best 57-yarder in the Wild Card loss in Indianapolis.
"It's one of those bittersweet moments. It was one of the most fun hits of my career,' Nugent said. "I'd rather not have that field goal and win the game."
Nugent's streak began after missing a 36-yarder wide right that would have beat Carolina in what ended up a 37-37 knot. That memory was pretty much erased in the moments following the game as his teammates rallied to his defense in a silent locker room.
If he takes anything away from the past it's his 2011 season, when he set the club season records for points (132) and field goals (33).
"(I ask myself) what did I do that year? I did a great job of just taking it one day at a time," Nugent said. " I wasn't like, 'OK, what are my numbers going to be in training camp?' How's the season going to go?
"It was, 'I have a lift. I'll just worry about that. I kick in the afternoon. That's on my list. Not three days from now.' I do a better job focusing on the moment."
That would be nice. But a kicker's lot is to remember the ones that got away. The only miss down the stretch was a 50-yarder in Pittsburgh. Never mind no one makes 50-yarders in Heinz Field.
"That's the tough part about kicking," Nugent said. "I'm hitting it well. I'm really excited, then I think about the 50 at Pittsburgh. That's the thing that stinks about it. Great warmup. The field was in good shape, not too windy…"
ONE ON ONE: Off his first training camp practice since breaking his foot 50.5 weeks ago, wide receiver Marvin Jones indicated Saturday morning he had no ill effects as he prepped for his second practice.
It's hard to imagine defenses not being forced to play one-on-one with Jones, four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and first-round tight end Tyler Eifert on the field at the same time. Jones thinks back to his 10 TDs in 2013 and calculates nine came against man coverage. One of his four against the Jets was in a cover four, a zone near the goal line.
"I hope everybody does it again," Jones said.