NFL: Bengals interested in RB Larry Johnson as backup
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — Larry Johnson might get to revive his troubled career with a team known for giving second chances.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday that Johnson would be in Cincinnati to discuss a limited role — fourth-string running back, essentially an insurance policy in case Cedric Benson’s hip injury gets worse or another running back gets hurt.
It’s a very low-profile role.
“That’s what his role would be, it would be as a fourth running back and an opportunity as a backup player on this football team doing all the things backup players do, and that’s work their tails off in the kicking game and showing looks (on the scout team) and so forth that way,” Lewis said. “And then he would be an insurance policy if something would happen down the line to one of our guys where he’d have a chance to be active.
“But I couldn’t foresee him being active when he was initially here, if this is what happens. And that’s what I’ve told him.”
Lewis said the interest in Johnson is unrelated to Benson’s injury. Benson, who is one of the NFL’s top running backs, strained a hip muscle and couldn’t finish an 18-12 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday that left the Bengals (7-2) in control of the AFC North.
Benson is expected to practice on a limited basis this week. Lewis said there’s a chance he could play Sunday in Oakland.
Johnson turns 30 on Thursday and is coming off several years of decline. He also created controversies while with the Kansas City Chiefs, who released him last week on the day he was due back from his second suspension in the last 12 months.
The Bengals have a history of giving extra chances to troubled players. Owner Mike Brown brought Chris Henry back to the team before the 2008 season — over Lewis’ disagreement — and the receiver has stayed out of trouble since then. Henry is out for the rest of the season with a broken left arm.
Benson was signed last year after the Bears let him go because of his off-field problems. He had two alcohol-related arrests in Texas, but the cases were dropped when grand juries declined to indict. Benson has revitalized his career in Cincinnati — he ranks sixth in the league in rushing with 859 yards and leads the NFL with 205 carries.
Lewis assured Benson that the interest in Johnson would have no effect on his status as the primary runner. Lewis said he first spoke with Johnson by phone last Thursday, before Benson’s injury.
“I had a chance to visit with Cedric about this, that it doesn’t affect him — zero,” Lewis said. “This was under way last week, so Cedric (being injured) in the game had no effect on this thing.”
Johnson was benched for three games in 2008 by former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards for violating team rules. The NFL added a game for violating its player conduct policy. He was later sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace at a Kansas City night spot.
Three weeks ago, he posted a gay slur on his Twitter account and questioned the competence of coach Todd Haley, drawing a two-week suspension.
Lewis saw a parallel with how Benson has turned his career around in Cincinnati.
“That’s one of the things I told Larry, that we would judge him on his future and really not on his past,” Lewis said. “We’d judge him that way forward. I told Ced, ’I think you could help him with that. You could validate that.”’