Johnson Eager to Test Knee

Al Johnson is not a rookie, but he might as well be. Drafted last year out of Wisconsin, Johnson was expected to contribute immediately last year at center -- perhaps earning the starting job in his debut campaign -- until the plan was cut short when he blew out his knee.

So Johnson now must begin his professional career again. The 6-foot-3, 303-pounder once again is in the mix at center, and head coach Bill Parcells again says Johnson has a chance to play, perhaps even start.

"We're going to rotate (Genarro) DiNapoli, Johnson and (Tyson) Walter at that spot," Parcells said, adding that 2003 starter Matt Lehr is being moved to guard. "It's what I do at every position -- the guy who plays the best will play. These guys know that."

For Johnson, the 2003 season was one of frustration. Not only did he have to sit and watch while his team exceeded expectations and reached the playoffs last year, but he didn't even interact much with his new teammates.

"I was here every day, and I saw the guys, but I wasn't even in meetings with the line," he said. "I had to do my rehab when the trainers were available, and they were available when the rest of the guys were in meetings. So I studied my playbook and watched the team play, but I wasn't there with them. I was on my own a lot -- I didn't have a lot of interaction."

"It was hard to just watch, but it's something you just have to deal with. I had to learn from the other guys."

Johnson said the knee no longer bothers him. He said when he stretches before workouts, he can feel where the knee was repaired, but that there is no pain. In practice Saturday, Johnson looked good, showing quick feet and getting out quickly on pulling drills. Through his intense rehab lifting program, Johnson said his knee and leg actually are stronger than before the injury.

Parcells said he felt Johnson should have been able to participate in last month's mini-camp for rookies.

"You've got a guy who really didn't participate in anything last year," Parcells said. "He got hurt so early, but by rule, he wasn't allowed to participate. According to the rules, if a player has a pension-building year, he can't take part in the rookie camp. Personally, I wish the NFL would consider something where players in his situation are allowed to take part."

As the team begins mini-camp, Johnson said he is not concerned with his position on the depth chart, Parcells' confidence notwithstanding.

"It's just the first day -- we're so far from the first game," he said. "They (the coaches) haven't told me anything, and I haven't asked. I don't even care about that right now. I just want to see where the leg is."

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