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Still young guns

Posted: 8 a.m.



GEORGETOWN, Ky. - It was just another dreary, steamy drill Wednesday until Chad Johnson lined up and yelled to a reporter on the sidelines "to pay attention and watch this."

Then he screamed past yet another defensive back with yet another acrobatic catch.

"Like a faucet. You can turn it on and off, but it's always on," said Johnson, and that's the kind of training camp it's been for the Bengals' best receiving duo in history even as the wide receivers are continually challenged by a coaching staff that hasn't held back criticism.

"Coaches are like psychologists," said T.J. Houshmandzadeh, at the hardest 200 pounds of his career. "They're only going to get on the guys that can take it and put it on their shoulders. That's cool. Chad and me don't mind."

The coaches are going after Bengals receiving royalty. By December, Johnson is going to be the franchise's all-time leader in both yards and catches. Against New England on Oct. 1, Houshmandzadeh, four days after he turns 30, is destined to become only the sixth Bengals wide receiver ever to catch a ball after his 30th birthday.



Chip Myers, 1969-76: 218 catches, 3,079 yards, 12 TDs


Isaac Curtis, 1973-84: 416 catches, 7,101 yards, 53 TDs


Tim McGee, 1986-92, 94-95: 282 catches, 4,703 yards, 25 TDs


Brian Brennan, 1992: 16 catches, 166 yards, 1 TD


Michael Westbrook, 2002: 8 catches, 94 yards, 2 TDs

And along with club icon Isaac Curtis, they will be the only thirtysomethings with 300 career catches. Johnson could join them as soon as the 2007 playoffs, because he turns 30 on Jan. 9.

"And I guarantee you that barring an injury I will play 13 NFL seasons," said Houshmandzadeh, who stands on the brink of his seventh year.

But not in his mind.

"This is only my fourth year. I haven't played much football. I didn't play any my first three years," he said of a stretch he caught just 62 balls. "I haven't played much football at all and it's all about snaps, not number of years. I don't have any wear and tear. I'm still fresh."

These guys have looked like Supermen out here with orange-and-black capes this week in the teeth of Camp Kryptonite as the kids fall by the wayside. Three receivers, three tight ends, and two fullbacks are on the shelf and yet two of the best players during the season keep making tumbling, diving, relentless catches in the heat of it-doesn't-count when they are the oldest guys around the offense. Only Willie Anderson and Reggie Kelly have been in the league longer than Houshmandzadeh and Johnson on the Bengals.

"I would have to say this is my best camp because I've made blocking part of my game," Johnson said. "I'm meeting them halfway, now they've got to get me the ball."

It'd be hard to see somebody getting the ball more than Johnson has the first week of camp. He always seems to have it, and he was steaming Monday night when he was told to stand on the sidelines and take a break.



"Chad is Chad. He's doing what he always does; taking it seriously and playing hard," Houshmandzadeh said. "Blocking in practice is a lot different than blocking in a game.

"He tells you guys that he doesn't miss a snap, but I guarantee you that I take just as many as Chad. If a coach tells me not to stay out, then I'm going to stay out because it's not fair to the other guys that need their reps. But I'm taking them all over. Inside. Outside."

The coaches have been telling them more than that after the disappointing last three games of the season when, along with everything else, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh combined for just one touchdown.

Houshmandzadeh did stand up with nine catches, 94 yards and what should have been the tying touchdown in Denver, but he's not going to go at it with the coaches, who have said they were the NFL's worst blocking receivers in the NFL last season, but Houshmandzadeh isn't going to contend he played the last month of the season with four small broken bones in his back.

"Coach talk. That's all it is. Coach talk," Houshmandzadeh said. "They just want you to work on something. We can't be that bad. I don't think we're as bad as they say. But if they want to emphasize it, that's fine. They want to win as much as we do."

If Houshmandzadeh meets one of his goals coming off his career-best 90 catches and finishes this season with 97, he'll become just the fourth Bengal ever with 400 in his career behind Johnson, Curtis, Carl Pickens and Cris Collinsworth with still another year on his contract.

"I had 90 catches, I want more than 90 this year," he said. "I had whatever yards I had last year (1,081) and I want more than that. I had nine touchdowns, I want more than that."

Houshmandzadeh insists that he doesn't mind being in Johnson's shadow. Maybe because the shadow isn't as long as it once was.

The pre-practice squeals here at camp for the player procession seem nearly as shrill for Houshmandzadeh as they are for No. 85. Houshmandzadeh has perfected blowing kisses on his first two fingers and waving to the masses.

"Chad's a good receiver. He knows what I can do. We've been working out together since Day One," Houshmandzadeh said. "Chad was established before me. I knew what I could do long ago. We're cool. As long as we win."

Which is one of the reasons Houshmandzadeh insists he's not thinking about the next contract.

"We've got to be more consistent. We were horrible on third down last year and (the coaches) have told us about it,' he said. "We just need consistency. The offense does well, the defense does badly. The defense does well, we're bad. We haven't played a complete game since we won the division. Maybe Carolina (a 17-14 win last year), but we didn't score that many points."

Houshmandzadeh only made the last three weeks of the voluntary and minicamps for "personal reasons," but he says he's in the best shape of his life, working out twice a day twice a week. The thrice-a-week trips with his two daughters to the fabled California In-and-Out food stands ballooned him to 208.

But now he's at 200, not to mention five percent body fat.

"Six pack, eight pack, whatever you want," said Houshmandzadeh, patting the washboard stomach he hopes gives him seven years good luck.

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