Johnson signs with Lions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Associated Press

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Rudi Johnson didn’t need long to find a new home.

Johnson, who was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday, officially signed with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday. Johnson will join rookie Kevin Smith as the featured backs in Detroit’s new run-oriented offense.

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‘‘As soon as I finish talking to you guys, I’m going to bury myself in the playbook,’’ Johnson said after meeting with the media Tuesday. ‘‘I want to be able to contribute to this team as soon as possible.’’

Johnson has missed much of training camp and the preseason with the same hamstring problem that caused him to miss five games last season, but said that he’d be ready for Detroit’s season opener Sunday in Atlanta.

‘‘I’m good — I just have to take care of my hamstring each and every day and stay on top of it,’’ he said. ‘‘My main thing during camp was to make sure I was ready for Week 1.’’

Johnson rushed for over 1,400 yards in both 2005 and 2006, but was limited to 497 last year. This season, the Bengals will be going with Chris Perry and Kenny Watson as their top runners.

‘‘The word got out last month that the Bengals were trying to trade me, so I knew this was coming,’’ he said. ‘‘I had a great run in Cincinnati, but now I have to move on.’’

Johnson will be reunited with Jon Kitna, who played for Cincinnati before coming to Detroit in 2006, and also has a tight bond with one of the players who will be blocking for him.

‘‘I talked to Jon — he and I are friends from when we were together with the Bengals, and I talked to (Lions guard) George Foster, who is a very good friend of mine,’’ he said.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals’ star wide receivers, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, opened defenses up for the running game, and Johnson hopes that Detroit’s duo of Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams will do the same thing.

‘‘I’m excited about playing with two great guys on the outside in Roy and Calvin,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m looking forward to that.’’

While considering Detroit’s offer, Johnson got some advice from an unlikely source — Tatum Bell, the player he replaced on the Lions roster.

‘‘When we talked, he didn’t know it was going to be him that was going, but Tatum knows this is a business,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘He told me all about the city, the players, the coaching staff and even details like practice times and how things are run here.’’

With Bell gone, Johnson will be battling for carries with Smith, Detroit’s third-round pick. He thinks he is still capable of putting up the same numbers that he did in Cincinnati, but isn’t worried about cracking the starting lineup quite yet.

‘‘Right now, I’ve got to get through this playbook,’’ he said. ‘‘After that, it is up to the coaches. I know I can contribute and help this team. The coaches will figure out how to best use me.’’