C. Johnson yearns to be hands-on receiver

3rd-year Bengals wide-out has big goals for himself

October 18, 2003|By Mark Curnutte | Mark Curnutte,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Being good isn't good enough for Chad Johnson.

The third-year Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver has the third-best receiving average in the AFC (85.8 yards a game). Johnson is on pace to have 1,373 receiving yards this season, which would be a franchise record.

Happy now? Nope.

Johnson is widely considered the biggest threat on the Bengals' offense, having supplanted injured tailback Corey Dillon. Now Johnson is being mentioned in the company of the top receivers in the AFC - Marvin Harrison, Hines Ward and Eric Moulds.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Johnson has three touchdown catches, one more than tomorrow's opponent, the Ravens.

He also has 429 receiving yards in five games, compared with 543 for the Ravens as a team.

But Johnson is far from satisfied. He's sticking to his training-camp goal of 1,800 yards, a single-season number only Jerry Rice has reached in 83 years of the NFL.

Rice is Johnson's model, and Johnson made sure to speak to Rice and secure his offseason phone number during the Bengals' visit to Oakland earlier this season.

"I'm behind the 8-ball," Johnson said of his goal. "Everybody thinks it's beautiful where I'm at so far, but no way. Going to the bye, I wanted to be sitting at 600 yards. That would have been a no-mistake and catch-every-ball performance. I have plenty of time to make up for it. Eleven games is a lot of time. It's going to get done."

Johnson made the bold pronouncement of 1,800 yards only months after finishing his sophomore season with 1,116 yards.

To reach 1,800 - Rice had 1,848 in 1995 for the 49ers - Johnson needs to average 112.5 yards a game over 16 games.

Johnson's single-game career high is 152 yards, against the Steelers last year. But with his "slow" start, Johnson now needs to average 124.6 over the last 11 games to reach his goal.

"Receivers get 1,300-1,500 yards any day," Johnson said. "All those good receivers - [Terrell] Owens, Harrison, [Amani] Toomer - those are 1,300-, 1,400-, 1,500-yard receivers. Why in the world do I want to be like them? Why do I want to sell myself short?"

The Colts' Harrison led the league with 1,722 yards in 2002. Harrison's 587 yards are second this season to rookie Anquan Boldin's 592 for the Arizona Cardinals.

To reach the elite company, Johnson said he has to constantly work on fundamentals - blocking on running plays, running exact routes even when he's not the primary receiver, studying film and playing his hardest no matter the matchup.

He said he would not have any trouble getting ready to face Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister because McAlister is one of the best in the league.

"I play better against the quality of corners," Johnson said. "I'm not saying my play drops, but I don't play at the highest level when I play against a corner who's not top-quality.

"But you've got your Chris McAlisters, and Sunday, I can't wait to get on the field, because I know my level of play is going to be shooting through the roof."

Johnson's coming off his least productive game - six receptions for 59 yards at Buffalo on Oct. 5 - but he had one catch of 31 or more yards in each of the first four games. Those catches included touchdowns of 41 and 55 yards.

The league is taking note. Asked if Johnson has become one of the AFC's best, Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "I think so."

Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna said he, Johnson and the team's other starting wide receiver, Peter Warrick, have grown together after two full seasons in the offense.

As the slot receiver and complement to Johnson, Warrick has two touchdowns and leads the team with 29 receptions - on pace for a franchise-record 93.

"We understand each other," Kitna said.

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