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John Johnson III 'making my presence felt' as vocal leader of new-look Browns D

The Browns signed Johnson to be a backfield leader for a defense full of new faces, and he’s using his voice to help bring them together

Get ready to hear John Johnson III's voice a lot in 2021.

The fifth-year safety who joined the Browns via free agency isn't afraid to talk, and that's been evident to the rest of the defense early in voluntary offseason OTAs. Johnson is in Berea to learn more about how his new teammates play — and also get comfortable barking orders to them as one of the new leaders of the unit.

"I think it's just natural and my personality," he said. "I feel more comfortable now just talking and making my presence felt. I love talking, talking trash and competing. I'm just out there having fun."

Johnson has the resume that commands people to listen when he speaks.

He recorded 32 passes defensed, eight interceptions and 350 tackles in his first four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He hasn't cracked a Pro Bowl appearance, but many people around the NFL believed he should've received a nomination last year when he was one of four safeties in the league to play every defensive down. With Johnson wearing the green helmet sticker and calling the plays, the Rams created the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and Johnson registered 105 tackles, one interception and eight passes defensed.

Johnson's leadership and consistency made him one of the top free agents available in 2021. The Browns quickly pounced and signed him as their first player of a free-agent haul that included six new defensive additions, all of whom could be in line to earn Week 1 starting jobs.

"It was definitely, I feel like, a defensive-heavy vibe," he said. "I don't know if that's what it is on paper, but that's the vibe I got. I think it's good. Bring guys in who you know can play and help the culture of a team. I think that's what the Browns were attacking."

The pieces for a great defense are on the table, but there's still plenty of work left to create a final product that can stop the skills of quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray — all quarterbacks the Browns are set to face this season.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods and the rest of the coaching staff have expressed plenty of confidence they'll have the tools and schemes in place to do it. Johnson, as well as nearly all the other free agents, are versatile players capable of playing multiple roles within their position. Johnson has experience playing in the box around linebackers, near the line of scrimmage as a slot player and in the usual safety spot in the deep-third part of the defense.

Woods expects to rotate players across all levels of the field and create confusing looks to their opponents, but the defense will need plenty of practice together in order to avoid confusion when calls are being made.

"It's definitely something that you have to be proactive about," Johnson said. "That's why a couple of the guys came this week to stay on top of things before minicamp, and then going into training camp, we will be firing and more comfortable. We can build that foundation so we can actually start working on this beautiful house that we are about to build."

Check out exclusive photos of phase 3 of the offseason

Having vocal players like Johnson on the field should help accelerate that learning curve. He proved his football smarts can help bring a defense together last season in Los Angeles as one of the Rams' top leaders, and he's working toward molding the new pieces of the Browns defense together into the same level of cohesiveness.

Come training camp and preseason, fans will be able to see the progress themselves.

But they might also be able to hear it — Johnson won't be quieting down any time soon.

"We have the guys on paper to do it," he said. "It's really just going out there, practicing, becoming great at what we do and being technicians. I think the sky is the limit."

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