Johnson Back To Having Fun On The Football Field

Posted Aug 1, 2012

Football is fun again for new Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson, and he plans to keep it that way.

Six Pro Bowl appearances and 11 seasons in the National Football League have shaped Johnson’s persona to the degree that his desire and his skill set came under scrutiny last year in New England. Now he’s out to prove that he’s the same guy that put together six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2002-07.

After a decade in Cincinnati with the Bengals where the 34-year-old’s flamboyancy turned him into an enigma, Johnson was kept under wraps in the muted culture that existed within the Patriots. His production suffered badly as he managed just 15 catches for 276 yards and only one touchdown.

“I had a bad year. Finally. I handled my business for a decade straight,” said Johnson, who was born in Liberty City and played his high school football at Miami Beach High. “A lot of us tend to forget that, a decade. I hit an obstacle. I didn’t complain. I didn’t become a distraction. I took a bullet, worked this offseason, I’m here, still working. I’m not complaining. I’ll be back to normal. I don’t have a choice.”

Through the first five days of training camp practice he has impressed his teammates and coaches as he looks to return to the form that saw him record seven 1,000-yard seasons during his 11 NFL seasons.

Head Coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Matt Moore have liked what they have seen so far in terms of the routes Johnson is running, the speed with which he’s getting down the field and how he’s catching the ball. This all falls in line with Johnson’s previous practice habits.

“I like the energy that he brings. I think he’s caught the ball well. I think even in tight quarters he’s caught the ball well,” Philbin said. “I noticed a couple of routes in the one-on-one he ran today against press coverage and he kind of put the brakes on at about 12 or 14 yards. He made some contested catches that you like.”

Moore is in his sixth season in the league and has worked with similar receivers as far as personality and playmaking ability in Steve Smith with the Carolina Panthers and Brandon Marshall last year in Miami. Just like those players, Johnson is always calling for the ball, which is what Moore says quarterbacks expect out of their receivers.

The quarterback competition between Moore, veteran David Garrard and rookie first-round pick Ryan Tannehill is still wide open, according to Philbin, so they are splitting first-team reps evenly so far. Moore and Garrard are still getting the bulk of the snaps because Tannehill missed the first two days of camp waiting for his contract to be completed, and Moore already is developing something special with Johnson.

“It is early but Chad has been great. He’s a guy that loves football, he really does,” said Moore, who went 6-6 as a starter for the Dolphins last year with 2,497 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. “He’s constantly asking questions, and I’m sure the coaches will tell you that he’s all over them at all times. So to work with a guy like that that is extremely interesting and a guy with the accolades to still have that desire to get better and want to change his game is inspiring to be honest with you. … Our relationship could not have gotten off to a better start.”

Johnson knows he will be looked at as a leader among the wide receivers because of his experience and he is willing to accept that role. But he also wants to be seen as an equal and someone who is trying just as hard to earn as a roster spot as the next guy.

Returning starters like Davone Bess, in his fifth season, are showing Johnson different techniques that are intriguing and he seems eager to learn new things and develop new skills in offensive coordinator Mike Sherman’s offense. That is something he is not ashamed to admit.

“I’m stealing as much from them, also. I’m being a sponge. They probably don’t even know it,” Johnson said. “I’m stealing some of Davone’s moves on the inside, Naanee’s moves, and (Julius) Pruitt and Roberto (Wallace), I’m not the physical type nature like them but I’m trying to steal some of the things that they do. I’m studying everybody’s habits, especially Clyde (Gates) also. They’re doing some things that other places I’ve been, New England and Cincinnati all those years, I’m seeing things I never saw before as far as receivers go and trying to add it to my game.”

Over on the other side of the ball, the defensive backs are learning a lot from defending Johnson and also from engaging in trash talk with him. There aren’t too many receivers – or players for that matter – over the last decade that have been able to match wits with the man who up until earlier this month went by the name Chad Ochocinco.

Fourth-year cornerback Sean Smith feels like he is up to the task and that he and Johnson have become animated during their one-on-one battles on the outside. Smith is bigger at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds compared to Johnson (6-1, 188), and he is almost as loud.

“It’s fun. It reminds me of when I was a kid and we were playing at the park,” he said. “You’d have your friends out there trash talking a little trash talk when one of them makes a play and I think that’s good for us because we’re out here, the sun is on our necks and it’s good to have a smile here and there. He’s everything that I know him to be. I’m not real big on what other people’s opinions are. I told myself I was going to wait until I see it in person and then when I came out there and he’s fast and he’s running his routes and making plays, he’s just the same guy I’ve known since I was little.”

When Johnson was asked what the best thing was that Smith has said to him so far he gave a very brief answer – “Really nothing because he hasn’t been able to stop me.”

Meanwhile, safety Chris Clemons took credit for making good on his trash talk with Johnson after telling him he can’t get in his head and that, “You’re not getting anything over here. And he didn’t.”

In what was a surprising piece of introspection, Johnson spoke openly about why he doesn’t have a problem with people that have written him off as being finished.

“They’re supposed to. The way I was, I was very boisterous. I was very flamboyant, I was very outlandish, somewhat borderline arrogant, cocky, the way I approached the game of football. I would tell you what I was going to do and I would go out and do it. You’re not supposed to do that. This is a team game and I played it sort of in an individual way, having fun but I got the job done.

“So if I have a bad year, ‘OK, he’s done, he’s washed up.’ Nothing has changed. I’m humble in a sense. I’ve always been humble, when it’s time to play the game and I cross the line, I’ve got to be me. That’s what made me, me. I’m not a bad guy at all. I have fun.”

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