Michael Johnson's story is still being told, currently highlighted by an addictive (if not obsessive) goal to improve.
But that wasn't always the case.
Prior to the 2009 NFL draft, work ethic and a questionable motor were highlighting predraft analysis that may have dropped Johnson out of speculative first-round projections. SB Nation's Dan Kadar wrote in 2009:
Motor has been inconsistent throughout his career. Still has a ways to go against the run. Possesses the frame of a basketball player, which he was in high school. Susceptible to cut blocks. Some speculate he should move to outside linebacker for 3-4 team, but he might be too much of a project in that role. Good strength, but could get stronger in his torso.
Scouts, Inc wrote:
...work ethic and commitment to improving have been questioned as times.
Not only have those questions been long been answered four years later, his offseason ambition to improve is starting to become common knowledge. Gaining muscle over the offseason last year translated into increased sack production and better conditioning. Currently Johnson is improving his flexibility, while keeping the same regiment from last year that helped him add bulk.
"I'm still doing still the same stuff, but this year I'm working on more flexibility; staying loose and being mobile for as many weeks as we play," he said.
Growth isn't just ambitious for the game, but his life after it. For the past two years, Johnson has returned to classes at Georgia Tech and he's close to earning a Business Management degree. But as Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer noted, Johnson missed Cincinnati.
"I wanted to be back up here. That was real tough. I just was ready to be back to football," Johnson said. "Everyone had that itch to get back going and working with your teammates, get back to going through football stuff.
"I was working out and stuff, but it’s not the same as when you are with your guys and getting better together. That is why I love football so much, it is the ultimate team sport. It was good to be back."
A close group with Johnson, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers and Domata Peko, has generated a chemistry that Cincinnati hasn't been accustomed to for years. One of the team's first goals during the offseason was bringing the entire unit back, re-signing Geathers, franchising Johnson and re-upping Wallace Gilberry, one of the newest kids on the team (save for the draft picks). Even Devon Still, a second-year player from the 2012 NFL draft, is spending some of his offseason working out with Atkins. And it's not just the defensive line. It's been happening all over the place since 2011.
Michael Johnson loves it in Cincinnati. Loves his teammates. Words that fans appreciate, adding weight to such fascinations into a greater emphasis of fandom because they're loving the same team we cheer for, part of the same city that most of us live in. Johnson shows that this team is more than just the player. It's the team. And that's just one of the reasons fans have fallen hard for this roster.