The Cincinnati Bengals’ 2015 offseason was a roller coaster ride, filled with ups and downs for defensive lineman Michael Johnson. Few players experience getting cut one year after a lucrative free agent deal and then sign another big deal to reunite with their old club. And then shortly after that, suffer a scary injury at the onset of training camp. All of that happened to Johnson last offseason.
Still, through it all, Johnson was a productive member of the Bengals’ defensive line once again, garnering five sacks and three forced fumbles while battling through a nagging back injury last year following recovery from his training camp knee injury. He’s healthy this preseason and it’s been showing in the first two games. It’s why he feels 2016 could be one of the best seasons of his career—both for the team and individually.
“I’m looking to have my best year ever,” Johnson said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ll see at the end of the year how that happens, but every year you want to be better than your last.”
As previously-mentioned, health is a factor as to why Johnson feels he’s poised for a great season in his eighth NFL campaign.
“It feels good to be out there,” Johnson said. “I’ve been working and getting better, developing that timing, and you’re starting to see we’re hitting on all cylinders. It’s how you win. It’s what camp is for, working out the kinks.”
There are a few underrated aspects to Johnson’s skill set and contributions to the Bengals’ defense. On the surface, he only has one double-digit sack season to his name (2012 with 11.5), and is only averaging just over five sacks per season as a pro. But, Johnson is one of the better all-around defensive ends in the league while also playing well against the run, and as Jim Owczarski notes, part of Johnson’s role involves him going up against the league’s elite tackles on the left side every week.
“You know the left tackles in this league, so it is what it is,” Johnson said of his duties. “I gotta bring the lunch pail every week. That’s what I try to do. I learned that from (former Bengals defensive end) Rob Geathers. The biggest thing is not get caught up in all the other stuff and focus on doing your job and doing it to the best of your ability week in and week out. That’s my mentality.”
Defensive tackle Domata Peko also corroborated Johnson’s unheralded value, calling him “a big piece of the puzzle” for the Bengals’ defense. With Geno Atkins also looking stellar once again the summer, Carlos Dunlap coming off of Pro Bowl and franchise record-setting 2015 season, as well as Peko having one of the best years of his career, Johnson’s goal of a career-year could be attainable.
It isn’t just individual goals he has on his mind, though. Johnson has seen six of Marvin Lewis’ seven unsuccessful Bengals postseason attempts and thinks the team is ever-so-close to a championship.
“We ain’t got what we want in the playoffs yet, but we’ve got three division titles. Just right now we’re looking for that first playoff win,” Johnson said. “I feel like once we get that first one I think everything else will go from there. But it starts now. The goals are the same as they always are: Go undefeated at home, win the division and go from there.”
Even though there have some been some injuries this preseason, the defense should once again be the perennial top-10 unit fans have come to expect since Johnson arrived in Cincinnati in 2009.