Former Jacket ready to fill Bengals’ void

lexus_nexus.gif Ken Sugiura, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Projected as a first-round pick in this year’s draft, former Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson promised he would prove himself with the Cincinnati Bengals after he fell to the third round.

A little earlier than expected, Johnson will get his chance.

Johnson has been a backup who has played mostly on third downs. However, starting defensive end Antwan Odom was placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn Achilles tendon. He took his eight sacks, second in the NFL, with him.

“It’s been a good progression [playing passing downs], for [Johnson] to go through it like that,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He was more and more comfortable with it, and now he will see the first- and second-down workloads, as far as spelling guys, and maybe he will go by a guy [on the depth chart].”

Jonathan Fanene is the likely starter with Odom out, with Johnson expected to receive ample playing time. Johnson played his best game of the season, Lewis said, in Cincinnati’s loss to Houston last Sunday. The Bengals’ line has been considered a strength of the team, which is tied for the AFC North lead at 4-2, but is a little wobbly. They are home against Chicago today.

Johnson has 11 total tackles thus far with three passes defensed.

“I feel more ready than I would have earlier in the year,” Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’ve got some games under my belt. I’ve got some live bullets, and I’m ready to shoot back.”

Saban appeared lukewarm on Brees

Nick Saban apparently is much more persuasive when it comes to recruiting football players when they are in high school and not the NFL. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, whose team plays Miami today, said last week that when he was a free agent in 2006, he was leaning to the Dolphins over the Saints. At the time, Saban was the Dolphins coach, in between his jobs at LSU and Alabama.

However, Brees said, where the Saints made a strong push for him in his visit, the Dolphins were not as enthusiastic, performing multiple tests on his shoulder.

“And I was like, do you want me here or not?” Brees said. “And [Saban] was like, ‘Well, yeah, I do, I just have to make sure.’ “

Since then, Brees has gone to two Pro Bowls with the Saints and was named the NFL offensive player of the year last season. Meanwhile, Miami has started seven quarterbacks in that time.

Vikings’ weakness might prove costly

Today might be the day that Minnesota departs the ranks of the undefeated. The Vikings’ weakness is their pass defense — Minnesota’s defense ranks in the bottom 10 in the league in passer rating, passing yards and yards per pass. The Vikings play Pittsburgh, whose quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating. Further, Minnesota’s Pro Bowl cornerback, Antoine Winfield, is unlikely to play with a sprained foot.

Pittsburgh receiver and former Forest Park High and Georgia great Hines Ward is tied for the NFL lead in catches and leads in receiving yards.