Tank at ease, ready to roll forward in Dallas Print
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Tuesday, 05 August 2008 10:40
NFL Headline News

 OXNARD, Calif. (AP) -Tank Johnson casually strolls off the practice field, shirtless and sporting a wide-brimmed straw hat he had stashed near the end zone.
His boisterous laugh can be heard along with the banging of shoulder pads during drills. And he's usually in the middle of the good-natured rookie initiations during camp.
A year after Johnson wasn't even in a training camp or on a roster, and still facing an eight-game NFL suspension because of off-field issues, the nose tackle's personality is starting to show with the Dallas Cowboys.
``I was in witness protection last year. I'm out now,'' Johnson said. ``I can come out and do my thing a little bit and have fun with this team because this team is a lot of fun.''
The Cowboys signed Johnson, still on waivers from his release by the Chicago Bears, after Jason Ferguson suffered a season-ending biceps injury in the season opener. Johnson then had to serve his suspension and didn't play until midway through the season.
Johnson, whose last game for the Bears was the 2007 Super Bowl, mostly avoided interviews after joining the Cowboys, even after he started playing. He was a newcomer trying to prove himself and learn the defense of a team already halfway through its season when he finally played a down.
This time, Johnson is there from the start, and is obviously already at ease.
``He's a gregarious person, and it's come out,'' coach Wade Phillips said. ``He's a lot of fun to be around, but he wants to do well on the football field and that's the most important thing.''
Johnson had a sack in his first game for the Cowboys, and finished with 10 tackles and two sacks in his eight games.
After that half-season, and the offseason workouts since, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Johnson finally feels like he's got a grasp on the Cowboys system. That makes a huge difference in his approach.
``Yeah, I can play fast. I'm not as hesitant when I get off the ball now,'' Johnson said. ``Now I know where I'm going, so I'm there full speed. That makes more of a difference than thinking, because when you're thinking you play a little slower.''
The Cowboys traded Ferguson to Miami before the draft in April. And Jay Ratliff, who became the starter after Ferguson was hurt, has been working some during camp at defensive end with the expectation that he can play both spots.
``I like Tank,'' Phillips said. ``He is real quick off the ball. He is strong. He is doing things better than he was last year. He has learned to use his hands better. ... He may be the strongest guy we have. So we have gotten him to utilize that.''
Johnson was released by the Bears in June 2007, days after he was pulled over by police in Gilbert, Ariz., for speeding.
There were never any charges in the Arizona case, but Johnson had already served a two-month jail term for violating probation from an earlier gun charge when he had unregistered firearms in his home. He had also already been suspended by the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy.
``I was sitting in a jail cell not understanding if I'd ever play again,'' Johnson said. ``Now that I'm here and I have this opportunity, I'm really embracing it.''
he'll watch this time. HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said 300-400 hours of video can be shot for each one-hour episode.
 

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