But less than a week into training camp with the Miami Dolphins, Johnson said he has no doubt he can recapture the form that made him a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Why? Because I’m good,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I’m really good. The odds have been stacked against me since 1978. I had a bad year. Finally. I handled my business for a decade straight. I hit an obstacle. I didn’t complain. I didn’t become a distraction. I took a bullet, worked this off-
season, I’m here, still working. I’m not complaining. I’ll be back to normal. I don’t have a choice.”
Johnson was signed by the Dolphins in June four days after he was released by New England.
It’s an entirely different atmosphere for Johnson this summer, who has been allowed to be outlandish.
That wasn’t the case last year in New England.
“It feels good to be able to breathe again,” Johnson said. “Without getting into it, you should know what I mean. It feels good to be able to breathe. What you’re seeing now, what you’re hearing as far as how I’m doing in camp, that’s the way it used to be for 10 years straight. That’s me. ”
After averaging 76 catches the previous nine years, Johnson caught only 15 passes in 15 games in 2011 after the Patriots acquired him in a trade with Cincinnati for a pair of draft picks.
Dolphins first-year coach Joe Philbin said no promises were made to Johnson, only that he’d be given the opportunity to compete.
Philbin said Johnson has caught the ball well in training camp so far and also has impressed with his work ethic.
“This guy likes football a lot,” Philbin said. “He comes up to our meetings sometimes and just wants to hang around. He’s a little bit of a gym rat in that regard, which is good. You like players that like the game and he wants to know. He’s not afraid of being coached.”
Even though his 766 career receptions are 276 more than the other 11 wide receivers on the Miami roster combined, Johnson isn’t taking anything for granted.
He said he is approaching camp with the mind-set he has to earn a spot and prove himself after last year.
“That was horrible,” Johnson said. “I mean, 15 catches? Come on.
“I’m working. I’m working like a rookie again. I’m flying around. I’m running around like a young dude, just having fun, being detailed, being consistent and working on my one weakness, which has always been blocking. It’s no secret. Getting open, never been a problem.”
Johnson has never been shy about talking to his quarterbacks, and that clearly hasn’t changed.
“The other night we were walking out, we had the (next) day off and I said, ‘Chad, what are you going to do on your break?’ “ Matt Moore recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll probably be open.’
“I love it. That’s the kind of guy he is. He keeps everything light. He’s been a pleasure to work with so far.”
Johnson, who recently changed his name back from Ochocinco after his Fourth of July wedding to reality television star Evelyn Lozada, is serious when it comes to re-establishing himself as an elite wide receiver.
Especially now that he’s playing in his hometown.
“Being here is awesome,” Johnson said. “I’m home. It’s good to be home and I don’t have a choice but succeed. There are a lot of eyes watching in general, but being here, I’ve got to, bro. Really. Can’t fail. Not home.”