This Guy No Longer A 'Mystery Guest'

Bears would not have gone to such great lengths to get him to the Super Bowl two years ago in Miami after he was court-ordered to not leave the state. 

The Bears just felt like they could no longer publically bend over backwards for him, almost apologetically cutting ties with a player who had been involved in one too many incidents with the police, however coincidental or minor they might have been. 

While many of us thought Jones was taking a chance on a repeat offender, evidently he and the organization had done their homework on the guy, signing him to a bare-bones two-year deal and willing to wait out the eight-game suspension to gain his services. This might be the year the Cowboys benefit from the low-risk, potentially high-reward move. 

"I was just kind of like in a herd of cattle just kind of going with everybody but now I'm starting to slowly lead the way, lead the pack, and I'm still taking stuff from the other veterans on this team who put in a lot of time here but now I find myself in a role where I can actually be a leader," Johnson said of what a difference eight months can make. 

"When you can implement your personality into your job then that tends to let people know you better, the walls come down I believe and the guys start to understand the depth of your personality - not (from) just on the field and stuff they've heard about you." 

This all is starting to smell like found money - seemly an unofficial free-agency acquisition. Oh, Johnson was OK last year. He flashed at times, but seemed neutralized too many other times, almost as if trying so hard had become his kryptonite. 

But thinking back only reminds he basically was not involved in an off-season workout program, having spent three months in jail, and did not attend a training camp or play in a preseason game. By time he played in that Nov. 11 game against the Giants, he had not played a down of real football since Feb. 4, 2007. 

"I think he's feeling more and more comfortable," Phillips said. "We're getting him to use his hands now. He's so strong, and just wanted to use his shoulders, but now with his hands, he's getting better and better. 

"He's got great quickness, and now he knows the defense better." 

Chances are Johnson's head was swimming when he finally was able to practice last year, playing in his first game six days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him. And remember, he was transitioning from the 4-3 defensive tackle spot he played for three seasons in Chicago to a 3-4 nose tackle but without the benefits of classroom work or an off-season. 

"It's really helped to be able to come out here and learn the plays one by one instead of 50 at a time," Johnson said of this off-season's difference. "You get a chance to identify the blocking schemes that are going to be most troublesome for you and that gives you the ability to see everything at a slower pace." 

There is something else. Working out on your own is one thing, and usually not as good a thing. But working out under the supervision of a coaching staff and strength and conditioning coach is an entirely better matter. 

And this is not to say Johnson didn't try to work out hard on his own, but as the late former Cowboys running backs coach Joe Brodsky once told me, if football players could do all this work and practice diligently on their own you wouldn't ever need coaches. Uh, they pay these coaches a nice salary these days. 

"Oh yeah, I'm a beast right now, I'm a beast right now," Johnson said of what this off-season workout program has meant to him. "I'm stronger now than I've ever been in my life." 

In your life? 

"You take on a little more pride in what you do as you get older in the league and you realize the longevity of it depends on your body, and you start to realize that those young 20-, 21-, 22-year-old legs aren't going to be the same." 

And suddenly there was this epiphany? 

"It's called maturing, the maturation process . . . you know about that," said Johnson, and if he meant me, in deference to our age difference, then more than he'd ever know. 

Who would have ever thought all this about Johnson, a noted player, for sure, but hard worker,

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