Notebook: L.J. once a Steelers' target

PITTSBURGH -- In April of 2003, the Steelers needed a strong safety, but knew Troy Polamalu would be long gone by time they picked 27th.

The Pittsburgh Steelers also had a problem at running back (which led them to replace Jerome Bettis with Amos Zereoue), so word leaked of the Steelers' interest in Penn State running back Larry Johnson, who figured to last until the Steelers picked in the first round.

But the problem at safety was worse. Lee Flowers and Brent Alexander were the starters in 2002 and the backups were Mike Logan and rookies Chris Hope and Erik Totten. Flowers was a free agent, so the Steelers were forced to obtain a strong safety in the draft and they traded their first, third and sixth-round picks to the Kansas City Chiefs to move up to pick No. 16 and draft Polamalu. The Chiefs, at pick 27, took Johnson. Four seasons later, both players are Pro Bowlers.

Johnson, a State College native, was asked this week if he would've liked to have played for the Steelers.

"Who wouldn't?" he said. "Who wouldn't want to stay at home and play in front of their own family and fans? Everyone knows Pennsylvania is Penn State central. Everyone loves Penn State in Pennsylvania. Even Philadelphia, I would love to play for both of them because I'm at home, I'm comfortable, the same weather I played in in school. That's what everybody wants to do is stay at home and be where you have a fan base since you were in high school."

Did Johnson realize the Steelers – and in particular running backs coach Dick Hoak, a Penn State grad – were interested in drafting him?

"I didn't know that," Johnson said. "I was hyped that Coach (Bill) Cowher came to my workout March 20th when I was coming out. I enjoyed that. Carl Peterson was there and he was a GM (general manager). A GM coming to see you work out, that was more special to me. All things happen for a reason."

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Johnson sat the bench most of his rookie season and started only three games in 2004. He replaced Priest Holmes in the starting lineup last Nov. 6 and put together a string of nine consecutive 100-yard rushing games. He rushed for over 200 yards twice down the stretch and finished with a team record 1,750 yards rushing (5.2 avg.) and 20 touchdowns.

Johnson remains the starting tailback and this season has rushed for 331 yards on 90 carries. His per-carry average dipped to 3.7 mainly because the Chiefs lost both starting tackles from last season, as well as the first reserve at the position. They've also lost their starting quarterback, Trent Green, but Johnson has become reliever Damon Huard's favorite target. With 20 catches for 268 yards, Johnson leads the league by averaging 149.8 yards from scrimmage per game.


Ryan Clark replaced Chris Hope at free safety this season and is coming off his best performance.

Against San Diego, Clark ripped an interception from the hands of Eric Parker and also led the Steelers with nine tackles. The former Redskin was asked if it was his breakout game with his new team.

"I look back to the Miami game and I thought I played well," Clark said. "I thought I played real well in the Cincinnati game, Jacksonville. I feel like all year I've been doing good things. I just got an interception. That's all there is to it. Even before then coaches had been coming up to me and telling me I've been doing a really good job. It's just that most of the time all people see are the interceptions. Here, your job's not all about making big plays. So I just go out every week and do what I'm asked."

Clark is second on the team in tackles with 30. James Farrior is first with 40.


Kendrell Bell was the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 2001 but the Steelers let him go after the 2004 season because of a three-year fight with injuries and a lack of production. The Chiefs signed him as a high-priced free agent last year and he disappointed with only 1.5 sacks and a seventh-best 68 tackles in 16 games. This season, as the starting right outside linebacker, Bell has 14 tackles and only one sack, but the sack came last week. Film-watchers believe Bell has regained much of his rookie explosiveness.

"He looked fine. I didn't really notice anything less or more of him," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca. "Defenses are different. He got a chance here to blitz more and to do more things, whereas they're more vanilla and he's going to have to play his spot right there and not get the chances to hit the A gap or come off the edge like he did here."

"He was dinged up last year and in a new system," said Chiefs Coach Herm Edwards. "Now he's in a new system again but he's done a really good job for us. He made a big play last week, taking them out of field-goal range with a big sack in the third quarter."


The Steelers activated Jovon Johnson from the practice squad and released No. 3 quarterback Brian St. Pierre.

Johnson, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound cornerback from Iowa and Erie Mercyhurst Prep, was signed to the practice squad earlier this week. Cornerback Deshea Townsend is injured, as are punt returners Willie Reid and Ricardo Colclough.

At Iowa, Johnson had 17 career interceptions and led the Big Ten in punt-return average (17.4) last season.

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