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Bengals hoping for big things from LB

Bengals hoping for big things from LB
CINCINNATI (AP) - With a little raise from his toes, Michael Johnson could peer over the top of the gray, metal lockers - the portable ones known as rookie row - and see clear across the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room. No one else in the place can do that.

There are a lot of things that no one else can do.

The 6-foot-7 linebacker from Georgia Tech can throw down a dunk like an accomplished college forward. He can wave those long arms and smash a pass like a volleyball player hammering a spike. There's even an unconfirmed story that he can stretch out and fill a doorway with his arms alone.

"In a normal door, he can put one hand on the top and one hand on the bottom," defensive line coach Jay Hayes said.


"I don't know," Johnson said Friday, after his first workout at the Bengals rookie minicamp. "I may have to try it one day."

This much the Bengals can confirm: They've got a third-round project on their hands, one that will turn out to be either the biggest surprise of their draft or a major disappointment. With Johnson, everything is going to happen on a grand scale.

Johnson played defensive end at Georgia Tech, where he specialized in blocking passes and kicks. He was a gangly kid when he first showed up, but put on 45 pounds and found himself rushing the passer from the end of the line. He weighs 266 pounds and has a vertical jump of nearly 40 inches, which means his long arms are way up in the air when he gets off the ground.

For a quarterback, it's like trying to complete a pass over a basketball backboard.

"He has unbelievable skills and ability," coach Marvin Lewis said.

So, what's the big downside? His body frame makes him prone to getting pushed around. His desire has been questioned. His inconsistency made teams leery of taking him in the first two rounds. He can rush the quarterback, but can have a hard time stopping a running back.

The Bengals knew all this when they chose him.

"This kid is a tremendous, tremendous athlete," defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. "He doesn't play hard all the time. That's our job, to make sure that he does that.

"When we talk about this kid and you watch him on tape, there are some plays that you say, 'Oh, wow, I can't believe he did that.' Then some of the plays you say, 'Oh, heck, he didn't do very good there.' But he does have a little bit of a 'wow' factor in some of his measurables and some of his plays on tape. He just doesn't have it enough."

The Bengals see a similarity with Ted Hendricks, a 6-foot-7 linebacker who was a Pro Bowl player with the Colts, the Packers and the Raiders from 1969-83. Hendricks used his long arms, height and quickness to disrupt the passing game.

Though Johnson played defensive end at Georgia Tech, the Bengals lined him up at outside linebacker on Friday, hoping he can quickly develop into a third-down pass rusher. They would like to eventually turn Johnson into the type of linebacker who can move around and create matchup problems for other teams.

"He has unbelievably long arms," Zimmer said. "His wingspan is huge and comparable to some of the great pass rushers of all time."

Zimmer worked him out on the Georgia Tech campus before the draft. He was clear with Johnson about what the Bengals and other NFL teams saw as his weakness - that inconsistent effort. Zimmer noted that Johnson became perturbed when the subject came up.

"Those guys don't know me," Johnson said on Friday. "If they'd asked my teammates and the guys that played around me, even guys that play against me, they'd tell you that's bogus."

He paused a moment before completing the thought.

"If there's any critics out there, you can prove them wrong," he said.

That's the big challenge.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 2, 2009

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