Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Tank" running full steam

Source: Elizabethton Newspapers, Inc.

DALLAS, Tx. (AP) _ Tank Johnson casually strolls off the practice field, shirtless and sporting a wide-brimmed straw hat he had stashed near the end zone.

A year after Johnson wasn't even in a training camp or on a roster, and still facing an eight-game NFL suspension because of off-field issues, the nose tackle's personality is starting to show with the Dallas Cowboys.

"I was in witness protection last year. I'm out now," Johnson said. "I can come out and do my thing a little bit and have fun with this team because this team is a lot of fun."

The Cowboys signed Johnson, still on waivers from his release by the Chicago Bears, after Jason Ferguson suffered a season-ending biceps injury in the season opener. Johnson then had to serve his suspension and didn't play until midway through the season.

Johnson, whose last game for the Bears was the 2007 Super Bowl, mostly avoided interviews after joining the Cowboys, even after he started playing. He was a newcomer trying to prove himself and learn the defense of a team already halfway through its season when he finally played a down.

This time, Johnson is there from the start, and is obviously already at ease.

"He's a gregarious person, and it's come out," coach Wade Phillips said. "He's a lot of fun to be around, but he wants to do well on the football field and that's the most important thing."

After that half-season, and the offseason workouts since, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Johnson finally feels like he's got a grasp on the Cowboys system. That makes a huge difference in his approach.

"Yeah, I can play fast. I'm not as hesitant when I get off the ball now," Johnson said. "Now I know where I'm going, so I'm there full speed."

Johnson aadded, "I was sitting in a jail cell not understanding if I'd ever play again," Johnson said. "Now that I'm here and I have this opportunity, I'm really embracing it."