The Cincinnati Bengals have several questions along the offensive line, but fourth-year lineman T.J. Johnson hopes to ease those worries.
Is Johnson’s roster spot secure this season, and where does he stand on the current depth chart? We assess that and more in evaluating his role in 2017.
College: South Carolina
Hometown: Aynor, SC
Experience: Fourth-year player in 2017
Johnson is entering the first year of his new two-year deal, signed this offseason. According to Spotrac, Johnson will have a cap hit of $1,625,000 this year. If released, Johnson will have a dead cap hit of $350,000.
One of the lone offseason moves in the trenches made by the Bengals this year was the re-signing of Johnson. Cincinnati gave a new two-year deal to Johnson, who was slated to become an exclusive-rights free agent. He's played both backup guard and backup center during his career, which has helped him remain on the 53-man roster as he's continued to develop.
Johnson originally joined the Bengals in 2013 after being drafted out of South Carolina with the 251st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. During his redshirt senior year in 2012, Johnson started in all 13 games at center and broke the school's record for starts during a career. He was named to the Coaches All-SEC second-team and finished his career having started every game between 2009-12.
After coming to the Queen City, Johnson spent his rookie season on the practice squad. In 2014, Johnson made the 53-man roster, played in four games (Games 3 and 12-14) and was inactive (coaches decision) for Games 1-2 and 16. He was active but did not play for Games 4-11 and 15.
In 2015, Johnson appeared in 12 games, including the wild card playoff game. He was active for every game in 2016, and started at left guard in the season finale against the Ravens. Johnson has served primarily as a backup center, but also as a backup guard for the Bengals. He saw a few series worth of playing time at center in 2016, once when starter Russell Bodine was briefly benched and then when Bodine also briefly went down with an ankle injury.
However, Bodine did not miss a start and Johnson quickly found himself back on the bench once Bodine was healthy enough to play the week following his injury. Johnson did end the year on a high note with a start at left guard in Week 17, replacing the injured Clint Boling, and he helped pave the way for a big day on the ground for the Bengals. The team accumulated 153 rushing yards in that game, 119 of which came from Rex Burkhead (plus, two rushing touchdowns).
There’s almost no chance Johnson isn’t on the opening 53-man roster this year. The Bengals effectively assured that when they gave him a two-year extension this offseason.
Johnson has played well enough in spot duty at guard and center to keep his roster spot for at least one more season, and there’s a small chance he could have a starting role at some point if either Bodine, Boling or Andre Smith go down with injuries.
Odds: 75 percent.