Making the Cut: Ron Johnson

Lake Forest - There are several roster spots still up for grabs heading into the preseason finale. With no tight end having an outstanding preseason, Ron Johnson is hoping to make a lasting impression on Thursday against the Cleveland Browns.

Johnson has been around the league for a while. In fact, one might say that he was born to play professional football.

"When I came into the world back in 1980, my dad Ron Sr., was a cornerback for the Steelers," Johnson said. "I grew up with football as a constant in my life. I began playing early on in grade school and continued through high school and into college, then the pros. It's great that this has all culminated with a chance to play for the Bears."

The younger Johnson was a three-year starter at receiver for the University of Minnesota where he finished his career as the school's all-time record holder with 198 receptions for 3,039 yards and 31 touchdowns. Johnson also set a school record for getting at least one reception in each of the 46 games he played.

Baltimore drafted Johnson in the fourth round of the 2002 draft. He caught 10 balls in 16 games as a rookie, including four starts. A knee injury limited his playing time and production in 2003 to one reception in six games. He failed to make the final cut with the Ravens last year and spent the season out of football.

Johnson signed a two-year deal with Chicago in January, which began a transition from receiver to tight end.

The Bears realize that Johnson could offer a receiving option from the position that has lacked in recent seasons. However, he has struggled to translate his athletic ability to the field. He has just two receptions for 19 yards.

At six-foot-2, 233 pounds Johnson is not big enough to be an every down tight end because he's limited in the blocking aspect of the game. That will hurt Johnson when the roster has to be trimmed to 53 players by Sunday.

Although Johnson is not playing wide receiver for the Bears, he hopes to be able to emulate the career of Muhsin Muhammad.

"What does Muhsin do for us? Just about everything," Johnson said. "If you watch carefully, you'll notice that whenever he isn't in the game, he'll be watching every single play just as a coach would. He'll be cheering us on and giving us pointers when we come out. The same holds true for practice.

"You can count on Muhsin to be there for you, doing his thing. Nobody ever lets down when he's on the field. It's something that I've found to be extremely helpful."

Johnson knows he has an uphill battle to make the team, which is expected to carry three tight ends. Desmond Clark remains entrenched as the starter, while John Gilmore seems to be secure as the No. 2 because of his blocking ability. That means Johnson is competing with Dustin Lyman, Darnell Sanders and Gabe Reid for the final spot.

"My personal goal is to be out there as much as possible and to demonstrate that I can contribute," Johnson said.

He will have one last chance to show what he can before leaving the final decision up to the coaches.


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