Yesterday, the Miami Dolphins were busy turning the "acorns," as Head Coach Tony Sparano would describe it, and the running back position was fully in the cross hairs of the churn. The Dolphins released Kory Sheets at about nine o'clock yesterday morning. That was then followed by a report that Miami had worked out free agent running back Clinton Portis.
Then came news, about an hour after the Sheets release announcement, that the Dolphins had signed Larry Johnson. Johnson comes to Miami after having been one of the best running backs in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs. He ran for over 1,700 yards in back-to-back seasons with the Chiefs, finding the end zone 37 times on the ground. It's too bad the Dolphins didn't get that guy.
In 2007, Johnson missed the last 7 games of the season with a foot injury, and has never again been the same running back. He has bounced around the league, joining the Cincinnati Bengals for part of the 2009 season, then moving to the Washington Redskins for 2010 - being released less than a month into the season.
Since the end of the 2008 season, his last full year in Kansas City, Johnson has had a total of 51 carries for 206 yards.
When he was asked about the signing of Johnson, Sparano replied:
"Well, I don't know what he's going to bring to the team yet. We'll see. We've got a couple weeks here to work with him, and, we felt like this is a guy who we should take a look at. He's in good shape and we wanted to get a look at him. You know, I played against this guy a bunch of times; we've had some history upstairs. Obviously, [Running Backs Coach] Jeff Nixon knows him [both were Penn State running backs], and a bunch of the other coaches here. But, when I played against this guy, he was a pretty darn good runner. So, a good opportunity for us to take a look at [him]."
Sparano was then asked why Johnson, versus the other running backs available.
"Big, physical fast - I mean this is a 225-pound back that runs big and fast. I mean, this guy has had som epretty productive seasons, and, as I told Larry, I'm not asking him to be anything more than he is right now. Not asking him to be the man, not asking him to be any of those things, just want him to come in and be a piece on this football team - that's it."
Johnson seems to understand his role on the team as well.
"Whatever they have me doing," Johnson said when he met with the press. "Obviously, I have to impress the coaches a little bit more and, you know, there are two preseason games left, so hopefully I can impress them enough. I hope to find a role as far as what they want me to do for this offense."
However, Johnson doesn't just bring his on-the-field past to Miami, but his off-the-field one as well. Since 2003, Johnson has been arrested four times, all dealing with various degree of assault on women.
When he was asked about his past and how it would affect his chances of making the team, Johnson replied:
"It wasn't really what I have to prove to them talent wise, you know. Obviously, I still have to do what I got to do on the football field, which is easy, but obviously, I have to convince - but it's kind of hard to convince with my colorful background that, like, 'Yeah, I changed. Yeah, I can do better.' You just grow older as the years go on and you can just do the best you can with the situation you get into."
One of the biggest question marks surrounding the signing of Johnson is the Dolphins' decision to let Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown leave during the offseason. Coach Sparano addressed that as well.
"I think a different set of circumstances at that time, you know. I mean really different. I don't think we're really talking about the same situation right now. This is something three weeks into training camp here, or whatever it is - four weeks into training camp - are we're making a decision...Again, Reggie Bush is going to be the first runner out the gate here. I mean, he's going to be the starting running back. That's what we're doing, so this is a different dea here, different role, totally."
Finally, Sparano was asked if Johnson was going to be on the team's 53-man roster. " I wouldn't say hat he's on the team right now," the coach replied. I would say he is going to come in here, he is going to be given an opportunity, just like anybody else that we brought in here. The next couple of weeks, we will see where we go."
For at least the next couple of weeks, the Dolphins are going to have a veteran running back on the roster. Will he stay there? No one knows yet. But, as long as Johnson has his personal life in order, his presence at least provides the team with a back who has served as a workhorse in the NFL - something sorely missing until now. We'll see what happens to Johnson over that time.