Updated: 3:15 p.m.
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer on Wednesday saluted his team's latest move, Tuesday's signing of defensive tackle Tank Johnson.
"It's exciting. I'm just thinking of him and Domata (Peko) playing next to each other," Palmer said during a locker room media session. "It's a great signing for our team, especially for the division we're in. A big, physical strong guy that can play the run and get after the passer."
Palmer and others downplayed the second hottest topic, Johnson's off-field problems that landed him an eight-game suspension from the NFL in 2007 and two months in jail for violation of probation stemming from gun charges.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, whose vetting process consisted of players and coaches that were with Johnson in Dallas, noted he hasn't had off-field issues for two years.
"What's in the past is in the past," Palmer said. "We've had a number of guys that have had some issues. They've grown up and learned a lot from (the past) and been great guys and great teammates. Hopefully it will be the same here."
No one was best prepared on the subject than running back Cedric Benson, Johnson's former teammate in Chicago. Like Johnson, Benson left the Bears under a cloud of legal difficulties and a "bad guy" nameplate. But back in September a Texas grand jury failed to indict him on two alcohol-related incidents that got him cut in Chicago last summer. The next week Benson jump-started his career in Cincinnati, where teammates and coaches have praised his character and work ethic that led to last month's two-year contract.
No surprise that Benson, who never sugarcoats an interview, had some passionate opinions on the subject.
"I don't think the player necessarily turns his life around. I think he just better avoids getting into trouble ... they just avoid putting themselves in situations," Benson said. "The player isn't a bad (person). The player is not what he was made out to be. That's just the way society is in America. Always looking for something to label you with because you're not just a human being. You are a football player with an issue.
"It's just a label that people love to do, and it's mainly the media business, the TV business. It's not necessarily who the player is. It's just what some sports channel has decided to label them with. That's why it's so easy when people say, 'You've overcome it,' or 'He's overcome it.' It's not that he overcame that. He never was that."
Johnson, a Bears' second-round pick in 2004, was there when Benson was Chicago's first-round pick in 2005 and both helped the Bears get to the Super Bowl the next season. Benson says from what he could see, Johnson was "a great teammate, a great person, too. A great guy to be with off the field."
"Only outside these walls," said Benson when asked if it's a locker-room distraction. "In here, everybody has had issues. I'm sure some of (the media) in front of me have had issues. But it's just life. Everybody in here understands it. I'm sure deep down even those guys labeling the players understand it, too. It's just what sells."
From a football standpoint, Zimmer reiterated Wednesday what defensive line coach Jay Hayes said about Johnson's ability to beat people on the pass rush. Many times, Zimmer said, guards are the weakest pass protectors and with the tackles getting help at times, the guard is often left alone one-on-one.
Since Marvin Lewis became coach, only one tackle has had at least three sacks in a season. John Thornton, who is now in free agency, had six and three in 2003 and 2004, respectively, before having three last season. In Johnson's last two years in Chicago, he had five and 3.5 in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
The Johnson signing all but means Thornton won't return for a seventh season, but that isn't news to him. Even though the club has shown some interest in him as a backup end-tackle, he's been adamant that he never thought he'd be back.
"They know me. It would have happened before April," he said Wednesday.
He does think that Johnson can help the team, but only if he can return to his '06 form.
"That's the question," Thornton said. "He's got more pop than anyone they've got. He's got an explosive first move. He's a good player who had some good seasons in Chicago. With Zim's aggressiveness on third down, he should be able to get some pressure."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Johnson is expected next week, but his locker is ready, albeit temporary. But don't read anything into the fact that it belongs to kicker Shayne Graham.
With Graham yet to sign his $2.45 million franchise tender and not at the offseason workouts, the Bengals needed his locker to accommodate a full house. The Bengals have until June 15 to reach a long-term deal with Graham that can count in this year's salary cap. With next year uncapped, they may choose to wait.
Graham hasn't talked about the tag, but there have been no indications he'll sit out the season. Once he signs the tender, the money is guaranteed.
» Palmer has yet to throw and the cold weather hasn't helped, but he plans to start in a couple of weeks. Asked if he'd get a pitch count for practice in the wake of Reds pitcher Aaron Harang's 114 on Opening Day, he said, "That sounds about right for a practice."