A big reason why the Bengals' pass rush re-emerged last season was due to the return of Michael Johnson.
The seven-year pro left for a brief stay in Tampa Bay for the 2014 season before becoming a cap casualty in 2015, leading the Bengals to quickly re-sign him. After all, Johnson did rack up 21 sacks from 2011-13 before signing a big free-agent deal with the Buccaneers.
Once Johnson left, the Bengals finished dead last in sacks for the 2014 season, so getting him back was viewed as a huge addition to the defense. While his numbers in 2015 were modest, Johnson did register five sacks, 42 tackles and a career-high three forced fumbles.
Johnson's presence also helped the Bengals rack up 42 sacks after getting just 20 in 2014. It's crazy to think that could have been even better had Johnson actually been fully healthy last year.
But injuries limited the veteran, including during training camp and the preseason. An MCL sprain kept him out for over a month before he was able to return for the season opener. He apparently was also dealing with back issues throughout the season, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The back can be a tricky injury to deal with, especially for an end like Johnson who's constantly bending and exerting force against 300-pound lineman who in turn are also pushing back. That could certainly keep a pass-rusher from being effective, but Johnson isn't using it as an excuse.
"You’re going to have bumps and bruises. Some more significant than others," Johnson said via the Enquirer. "But nobody’s out here playing 100 percent. So, guys talk about what they play through but everybody playing through something. It’s just a part of football, is what it is. You do what you can to make sure you feel as good as you and for Sunday and go about your business."
The good news is, Johnson is now fully healthy and feeling good this offseason as he heads into his eighth NFL season.
"I feel good, man," Johnson said. "They do a good job of taking care of us and making sure they get us ready to go. We’ve all been working out at various places and stuff and they do a good job getting us back acclimated to doing things the way we do it here. I always feel good going in. I can’t complain."
Looking at Johnson's game log, it's easy to see how these injuries hurt his production. He didn't have a sack in his first three games and five of the first six contests as he worked his way back from the MCL sprain, which cost him all of training camp and the preseason.
Johnson then began to emerge as he registered four sacks between Weeks 8-14, three of which came from Weeks 11-14. But then, Johnson was held without a sack over the final four games, including the Wild Card loss.
If Johnson can stay healthy in 2016 it should be a boost to an already impressive defense.