With Michael Johnson officially a member of the Cincinnati Bengals again, the big question surrounding the organization is this: Can the defensive line recapture the success it had the last time Johnson was part of it?
Not one to mince words, Johnson, in only the pointed way he knows how, said he unequivocally believes it will.
"We're going to get that and then some," Johnson said on a conference call with reporters Sunday afternoon.
"Everybody knows we play well together. I don't know why. We just do," Johnson said. "We've got that chemistry, that bond. We're texting each other in the group right now, making jokes and laughing. That's what makes this thing go. When you've got that relationship with somebody off the field where you care about them and they care about you, it's like brothers. You go to bat for each other.
"Unless you've been a part of something like that, it's really kind of hard to understand."
Johnson first arrived in Cincinnati in 2009 as a third-round draft pick. A year later, Dunlap and Atkins were added to the line. At the time, the Bengals believed they had the makings of a line unit that would stay together for years to come.
But then came the uncomfortable choice of deciding which of the linemen needed to be franchise tagged in order to clear enough multi-year cap space to re-sign the others to longer-term deals. Johnson became the odd man out, inked to the $13 million franchise tag in 2013, while Dunlap and Atkins were locked into deals that kept them in Cincinnati through 2018. Because of that franchise tag, Johnson became a free agent last offseason, and he came within about $1 million of re-signing.
The Bengals couldn't quite meet his contractual needs, and off he went to sign with Tampa Bay. Last week, one year after he signed his five-year, $43.8 million deal with the Bucs, Johnson was cut and back in play for Cincinnati.
Apparently, Johnson was sold on the dreams the Bengals saw flashes of back in 2012 when Johnson and Atkins both had double-digit sack performances.
"We're about to be a part of something special," Johnson said. "When you've got something special, you want to try to keep it going. We've got it up here. I'm excited to get back and get it going again and take it to a whole new level."
Part of that change includes upgrading his individual persona. That means the "MJ93" moniker Johnson earned from fans on social media will come to an end. Johnson confirmed he isn't going back to his old No. 93 now that he's back with the Bengals. Will Clarke, the young end who was given Johnson's No. 93 when he was drafted last May, will keep the number.
"I'm Agent 90," Johnson said, referring to the number he also had in Tampa Bay. "I'm not the guy that left. I'm coming back and I'm going to be better. I have new experiences. I'm more knowledgeable. What they're going to get from me is the upgraded version."
The Bengals certainly hope so. Johnson had only four sacks last season and 3.5 his previous season in Cincinnati. In his two seasons before that, though, he combined for 17.5. It's that production the Bengals need as they re-tool a defensive line that was largely ineffective last season.