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T.J. Johnson is clinging to his backup position

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T.J. Johnson’s calling card has always been his versatility to lineup at guard and center, but will it be enough to secure him a spot on this roster for 2018?

Cincinnati Bengals v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Hailing from humble Aynor (SC), Anthony Eugene Johnson has slowly worked his way into a more meaningful role on the Bengals football team over the past four years.

After joining the Bengals via a seventh-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft as a center, Johnson was released and then added to the team’s practice squad.

Following the conclusion of the 2013 season, he signed a futures contract and participated in four games, playing eleven total snaps between special teams and offense. In 2015, he became a regular member of the special teams squad, playing 43 special teams snaps in addition to 16 offensive snaps at center spread over a dozen games.

In 2016, Johnson participated in all 16 regular season games, playing 99 offensive snaps (with 62 of those coming at left guard in the season finale) and 70 special teams snaps.

Last year, Johnson’s offensive snaps jumped to 236 thanks to starting four games at right guard in Weeks 2-5 before being demoted to the backup center role, and also kept his duties as a special teams player.

T.J. Johnson

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 310 pounds

College: South Carolina

Hometown: Aynor, SC

Experience: Fifth-Year Player

Cap Status

Johnson signed a two-year $3,475,000 contract with the Bengals in March of 2017, which will make him an unrestricted free agent following the 2018 season. It carries a dead cap hit of only $175,000 for 2018. The contract was a big pay increase over his last contract, which was a one year deal signed in 2016 for $600,000. The low dead cap would make Johnson an easy cut, if he fails to secure a spot on the offensive line this preseason. He will take up $1,850,000 of the Bengals cap in 2018, according to Spotrac.

Background

Johnson joined the in-state South Carolina Gamecocks in 2008 after being named first-team all state in 2008 as a high school senior. The three-star recruit redshirted his first year before becoming a starter in his red shirt freshman season. He continued to start over the next four years, setting a school record with 53 starts. He was named to the All-Freshman SEC Team in 2009 and was First-Team All-SEC as a senior in 2012.

Entering the draft, he was seen as a late-round prospect with a chance to go undrafted. Nothing on the game tape really stood out, and he really didn’t dominate physically. But he had enough smarts, experience, and size to possibly develop into a backup.

Roster Odds

The Bengals offensive line was a total disaster in 2017, failing to provide either pass protection for Andy Dalton or running lanes for the running backs. Part of those struggles were from Johnson, as well as many other guilty parties along the line. Johnson struggled at guard early in 2017 before being benched, and in four years as a member of the Bengals, he was unable to beat out a very bad Russell Bodine for the center duties.

Heading into the 2018 offseason, very few of the Bengals offensive linemen should have felt “safe” in regards to their job security, but the Bengals did them a big favor by mostly neglecting the offensive line in free agency and in the draft.

The Bengals drafted center Billy Price in the first round to replace former starter Russell Bodine, and they signed right tackle Bobby Hart, who had been waived by the Giants for poor play and apparently for refusing to play through injury late in the season.

New offensive line coach Frank Pollack has been preaching the idea of trying out different folks at different positions this offseason. If that holds true, Johnson could face a challenge for his backup spot.

The glut of Bengals guards have shown better than Johnson when on the field, and if one of them gets a shot at center, Johnson’s roster odds are probably around 40 percent. But if Pollack’s words don’t hold true, and everybody keeps their current positions, Johnson can probably sleep a little easier knowing the team only has two centers on the team and will likely keep both of them. That would give him almost a 100-percent chance.

Roster Odds: 70 percent.