Welcome back, Chad Johnson. You’ve been missed.
After a year in personality purgatory playing under Bill Belichick’s yoke in New England, the Johnson of old returned in force on Wednesday.
And my, was he a sight to behold.
In his first press conference since signing with Miami in June, it was vintage Johnson, where no topic — including his black nail polish, his brutal year with the Patriots and a possible career in adult entertainment — was off-limits.
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Q: Can you get back to the player you were in Cincinnati?
A: “Yeah. Because I’m good. I’m really good. I had a bad year finally. But I handled my business for a decade straight. A lot of you tend to forget that.”
Q: Do you regret being traded to New England (where he caught just 15 passes last year)?
A: “No, man, because I learned so many things. I learned to shut the [bleep] up for a year. I never thought I could do it, but I did it.”
Q: How is Miami different for you than New England?
A: “It feels good to be able breathe again. Without getting into it, you should know what I mean.”
Q: What’s up with the black finger and toenail polish?
A: “I was hanging with Gene Simmons during the offseason a little bit, working on some music, him and I were doing. I’m somewhat of a rocker, hippie.”
With Johnson, aka Ochocinco, you never know when he’s being honest, or when he’s just having fun at everyone else’s expense.
But while Johnson was a laugh-a-minute with the media, he has been deadly serious on the field.
CONSISTENT IN PRACTICE
Teammates and coaches swear Johnson has been the consummate pro, giving maximum effort during practice and peppering anyone he can find with questions on how to get better.
Johnson spent a good five minutes midway through Wednesday’s full-contact practice talking alone with an offensive assistant. He has been consistently solid, but not spectacular, through the first five days of camp.
An example from Wednesday: He shook free of Sean Smith’s man-coverage with an out-route, got open and made the catch.
“I like the energy that he brings,” said coach Joe Philbin. “Even in tight quarters, he’s caught the ball well.”
Entering camp, the book on Johnson was his best days were in the past. The Patriots essentially said they were better off without him than with him, cutting Johnson outright in early June.
Johnson, a Liberty City native, set career lows in catches and receiving yards in 2011 (15 for 276). Surefire Hall of Famer Tom Brady targeted him just 31 times all season, according to stats compiled by ProFootballFocus.com.
A few days his release, Johnson came home, signing a one-year, incentive-laden deal with a base salary of $925,000 — but was promised nothing but an opportunity to compete in Miami.
That’s all he needs, said Drew Rosenhaus, Johnson’s agent.
“Getting cut really motivated him,” Rosenhaus said. “That was a really new experience for him. He’s got a chance to try and prove the naysayers wrong.”
TOUGH YEAR WITH PATS
In New England, reports were he struggled with route-running and the playbook, and never got comfortable with the team.
But in Miami, he’s already at ease, Rosenhaus said, and Johnson says he senses a return to excellence. (He was named to the Pro Bowl six times in his 10 seasons with the Bengals, leading the AFC in receiving yards twice.)
On Wednesday, he scoffed at the idea that he has lost a step. What he did lose in New England, however, was belief in himself, he admitted.
With a fresh start in a new place, those insecurities are behind him — if Wednesday’s circus act was any indication. But at 34 years old, Johnson knows his days in the league are numbered, and is planning accordingly.
“I’m always looking to a second job,” Johnson deadpanned. “I’m thinking about going into porn if this [expletive] doesn’t work. I’ve got to earn a living. That’s what I would do. I don’t have a choice.”
Yes, this should be a fun year.