Among The Talk, Mutual Respect

Maybe one of the reasons Bengals receiver Chad Johnson and Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot are talking about each other is because they know each is talented. While Smoot wasn't afraid to fire back at Johnson, he also issued a heavy dose of respect.

Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson issued the challenge on Monday, and Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot gladly accepted and returned a shot Wednesday afternoon over Johnson's bow.

In fact, Smoot jokingly suggested that this Sunday, before the Bengals-Vikings game, a repeat of what happened Monday night between Atlanta and Philadelphia could occur.

"Jeremiah Trotter just got ejected. We might get ejected in pregame," Smoot said. "It's hard to tell."

Smoot was referring to an incident Monday that happened during warm-ups — about 40 minutes before kickoff in Atlanta. A swarm of players from both Atlanta and Philadelphia engaged in a shoving match that led to the ejections of Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis. Oddly, the incident occurred well before kickoff.

The verbal battle between the Bengals and Vikings — or at least Johnson and Smoot — has started several days before kickoff.

Neither Johnson nor Smoot will ever be accused of hiding their emotions. Talking trash is as part of their games as running routes and reading offenses. Johnson started the war of words on Monday when he showed reporters his checklist of defensive backs he will face this season. Since Smoot was next on Johnson's list, the loquacious receiver looked into TV cameras near his locker and said, "Smoot, let's go; Smoot, who talks better trash?"

Johnson did compliment Smoot. "He's a solid corner," Johnson told Cincinnati reporters. "He's a real good talker."

Last year when he was still with Washington, Smoot faced Johnson and Cincinnati. The Bengals beat the Redskins and Johnson had six catches for 89 yards. But, Smoot insists, only a couple of the catches came when Smoot was covering him. "He had two catches for about 15 yards on me," Smoot said.

While both players are willingly engaging in a playful war of words, it's clear there are some signs of mutual respect.

"It's going to be a fun game and I love to compete with him," Smoot said. "He's one of those receivers where you know they're going to get the ball to him. They'll throw to him anywhere from 15 to 12 times, so in that 15 to 12 times you really want to be close to him so you can make some plays on the ball."

By definition, Smoot said, that makes Johnson one of the toughest receivers to cover.

"A lot of people ask me who the toughest receiver is to face," Smoot said. "I always say it's the receiver who gets the most balls thrown his way because the more chances he gets to catch the ball and make plays, that's the more passes I've got to defend. He's one of those guys."

Last week, in the Bengals' season opening win against Cleveland, Johnson had nine catches for 91 yards. In the Vikings' season opener against Tampa Bay, Smoot made one interception and one tackle.

Smoot was asked if he had any words to send back Johnson's way.

"He knows I'm shooting right back at him," Smoot said. "I've heard him say things 10 times worse than that to people. I love what I do regardless of who's out there in front of me. I'm going to say what I have to say and I'm going to play it the way I've got to play it. There ain't nothing you can do to rattle me."

Even though it's uncertain if the Vikings will assign Smoot to cover Johnson or whether Antoine Winfield will receive the assignment or they split the job, Smoot says it will be his responsibility. "I'll have him most of the day," Smoot said. "It's my job. He's my duty."

Vikings assistant secondary coach Kevin Ross says he knew Smoot was one of the league's leading trash talkers. But Smoot backs it up, Ross said.

"Before he got here I heard about his talking and all that. … He talks to get his teammates up," Ross said. "He's a guy that talks the talk, but he walks the walk."

Johnson's yapping apparently doesn't bother his Bengals teammates, either.

"You can have the antics as long as you practice hard and do your job," Bengals right tackle Willie Anderson said. "Chad can do what he wants to do. I don't care."


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