When the Cleveland Browns’ front office staff was doing its pre-draft work of interviewing players and studying game tape, they found something special in University of Nevada linebacker
The team selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft and sighted his versatility as a key to his growth at linebacker. The coaches also noticed that his production level increased in each of his last two seasons in college.
On Monday, Johnson continued to impress his coaches when he intercepted two passes during the morning practice.
“He looked good on the goal line and the linebackers crew, much like the O-line and D-line, where you might say before you put the pads on, that there are all these guys bunched up,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think the pads tend to separate the linebackers in what we think and he’s had a couple good days. He really has.”
Johnson credited Monday’s production in pass defense to fulfilling his role on the field.
“I just did what I was supposed to do,” Johnson said. “That was my coverage job to do that, so they threw the ball and I caught it. It’s faster. The NFL is more about assignments. You have to know your job. If you don’t know your assignments, you can’t play fast. Once you know your job, you can play fast and you’ll be fine.”
During his collegiate career, Johnson registered 299 total tackles and 8.5 sacks, forced seven fumbles, recovered two others and collected three interceptions. He had 101 tackles, 2.5 sacks and collected two turnovers as a senior linebacker for the Wolfpack last fall.
Dropping back into coverage has not been a problem for Johnson since he made the jump from college to professional football.
“I was just doing my job when I play,” Johnson said. “It was to get back and watch the quarterback’s eyes. I think the ball got tipped and just bounced right to me. I never had problems in space, moving around and feeling my body against other people and stuff like that. I have a good sense of space, so I feel like that’s one of my stronger points.”
Although he focuses on reading the quarterback’s eyes when dropping into pass coverage, Johnson has learned not to always trust those players charged with throwing the football down the field.
“They’re getting paid big money, just like we’re getting paid big money,” Johnson said. “They’re going to try and fake us out, just like I’m going to try and fake him out. You’ve got to just play football. His job isn’t to throw the ball to me.
“It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. I’m just trying to get out there and play.”
While he has achieved a little bit of success with the ability to intercept passes, Johnson has not lost his focus. The bulk of his off-the-field efforts have been focused on learning the team’s defensive philosophy and studying his responsibilities in the 4-3 front under coordinator, Dick Jauron.
Johnson has worked in both outside linebacker positions -- the strong and weak sides -- since the Browns drafted him. In an effort to contribute in any way, Johnson said he would “play tailback if he had to.”
“We have not much down time, so the down time is taken up by studying more film, looking at a book,” Johnson said. “At nighttime, I’m looking at a book. Whenever I’m not sleeping, I’m trying to look at a book somehow.”