August 14, 2002 at 5:18 PM EST - Updated July 26 at 11:45 PM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Of all the colorful tattoos adorning the massive body of Cleveland guard Tre Johnson, one seems to sum up his brief career with the Browns best.
It says: "Learn to Finish."
For the injury-prone Johnson, just getting started has been difficult enough.
"It's always something I didn't see coming while I was doing my job," said Johnson, one of the NFL's most punishing run blockers -- when he's healthy.
The nine-year veteran started three games last season -- his first in Cleveland after seven seasons with Washington -- before tearing a tendon in his left leg that ended his season.
He re-signed with the Browns in March, agreeing to a one-year, incentive-rich deal. The 30-year-old had no problems during the club's spring minicamps and got off to a solid start in training camp before injuring his right knee in a scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 3.
Johnson hasn't played since, and instead of taking snaps with the first-unit offense this week, the 326-pounder has been limping around on the sideline, watching.
"It's a day-to-day thing," he said. "If it was a regular-season game right now, could I play? Yeah. After nine years in the league? Yeah. Could I do well? Unequivocally."
However, the doubts remain.
Johnson hasn't played a full season since 1999 when he made the Pro Bowl as a reserve while blowing open holes for Redskins running back Stephen Davis, who rushed for 1,400 yards.
In 2000, though, Johnson started just four games before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg.
Two years earlier, knee injuries cost him six games. In '97, a shoulder injury cost him the final two games of the season. He's only played the full, 16-game schedule once in eight years.
"It's always fair to wonder if a player can get through 16 games," said Johnson, who teammates say is the Browns' strongest player. "I've had more surgeries than most guys, but I always come back. I'm not a finesse player. I don't play position football.
"I've never pulled a muscle. I've never had a cramp in my life. I'd never get discouraged over stuff like that. If I did something foolish, like a motorcycle crash or bungee jumping, I'd be mad at myself."
Johnson's latest setback has the Browns wondering if they can ever count on him. They need the self-described "mountain mover" to help the league's worse rushing offense from a year ago.
"It's a concern," said coach Butch Davis. "Hopefully, Tre will return to practice some time before the beginning of the season. Anytime you sign someone with an injury history, you have to cross your fingers."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)