On the Offense

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Johnny Stanton's journey from QB, to LB, to TE, and now FB continues in Cleveland

At first, Johnny Stanton was thrilled.

When he looked at Twitter and saw the Minnesota Vikings' roster additions in 2018 after rookie minicamp, he saw his name on the list. He transitioned from quarterback to tight end after his senior college season, and he didn't know until then if he'd done enough to impress coaches at a new position.

"As much as you can do in the offseason preparing for everything, nothing compares when you put helmets on and go against an actual defense," said Stanton, who saw he made the team just before he went back home to Orange County, California, unsure if he'd ever be on an NFL team again.

Next, Stanton saw his jersey number: 48. He was confused.

"'Oh," Stanton thought. "That's a weird tight end number."

Then, he saw his position: fullback.

Yes, Stanton made the Vikings team. But it was for a position he's never played before.

"I was like, 'Oh, OK,'" Stanton said. "'Well I guess I have to learn something else.'"

That was the beginning of Stanton's fullback journey in the NFL, which currently has him on the Browns as he looks to establish himself as a full-time player in the league. The Browns were Stanton's next destination after he received tutelage from Vikings fullback C.J. Ham and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu.

Now, he's in Cleveland working with Andy Janovich and running backs coach Stump Mitchell as the Browns attempt to carve the fullback position into their new-look offensive playbook, which heavily emphasizes the position in their running schemes.

Stanton doesn't have the same experience as Janovich, a five-year veteran, and has faced a stiff challenge to crack the Week 1 roster, but he's brought a hard work ethic to training camp and hasn't been afraid to show all of the normal traits of a fullback: lowering the shoulder, clearing running lanes and occasionally carrying the football through the trenches himself.

"I've really enjoyed it," Stanton said. "Coming here and being able to learn from Andy and Coach Stump is awesome. Just being able to get two very experienced guys' point of views and tips on what I can do better. Obviously, I've spent a whole lot more time at other positions, and I'm really looking forward to building my experience and reaching my potential at fullback."

Check out photos from the ninth day of Browns Camp

Before he inherited a new NFL position, Stanton wanted to be a quarterback.

He was nicknamed "Johnny Tebow" at Santa Margarita Catholic High School for his downhill running ability that matched the style of Tim Tebow, the shifty and popular Florida quarterback making weekly headlines for his plays in the NFL. Stanton was a 200-pound dual-threat QB and, like Tebow in college, was simply too much for any defense to handle.

"It was just something guys said in the stands," Stanton said with a laugh. "I'm sure it was more facetiously, but it ended up sticking, and I had a few people calling me that during high school."

The Tebow comparisons didn't quite carry over to college, though. Stanton spent two seasons at Nebraska, transferred to a JUCO school back in California, then played 10 games at UNLV as a quarterback and linebacker.

In other words, Stanton didn't have much to show at any position at the NFL level, so he worked out at a variety of spots at his Pro Day. Quarterback, tight end, linebacker, long snapper — any position that could fit a 250-pound athlete.

"I felt like I needed a lot of help to be able to join an NFL roster," Stanton said. "I didn't live up to (college) based on my own expectations, and I just knew that changing positions and being able to play football again would be a lot easier to swallow."

Stanton's versatility was enough for him to latch onto a spot with the Vikings in 2018, but a broken ankle injury in training camp sent him to Injured Reserve. In 2019, he was cut, added to the practice squad in November and cut again.

His football career was at a crossroads.

"I was just trying to get in front of people," Stanton said. "I worked out with a lot of different people on route running, lead work, strength work, and I needed to do things to get attention on me."

Stanton had his last shot, perhaps, with a small combine in Baltimore, Maryland. Scouts from the XFL were in attendance and took notice of his muscular build, speed and comfort at the fullback position. So he was offered a deal with the Los Angeles Wildcats.

Stanton was back in football for … a little over a month. Then, he was cut again.

He went back home to California and wondered if his football days were over. Not many players receive a second shot to play in the NFL. Stanton needed a third.

The Browns were willing to give it to him. They needed fullback depth, and Stanton fit the role. He was a young, developmental player who could learn from Janovich, who just so happened to be a teammate of Stanton for two years at Nebraska.

When Janovich found out who his fellow fullback teammate would be, he couldn't believe it.

"I had no idea he converted to fullback with the Vikings," Janovich said with a chuckle. "I was like, 'You have to be kidding me.' He's a huge dude, 265 pounds. Like, what? How were you ever even quarterback? You're huge. He's a super nice guy. Love him to death."

With a few training camp practices left, Stanton is hoping to prove he's worthy of a shot for regular season action. He added nine pounds of lean mass and built his weight over 260 pounds for the first time ever. He also spent the offseason working with former NFL fullback Mike Karney — who played seven seasons in the league and lives in the same town as Stanton.

Stanton feels as though he's mastered the technique of the fullback position, and he's quickly picked up on the playbook from Stefanski, who was a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator when Stanton was with the Vikings and has implemented schemes Stanton has familiarity with.

And Stanton's growth is showing in practice.

"He lays the wood," Janovich said. "When you have somebody that big, the linebackers I'm sure hate running into him. It's fun to watch him."

After years of uncertainty, position switches and not knowing where he'd land next, Stanton has soaked in every second in Cleveland. He's fought for the last two weeks to prove he's ready for NFL action, and he's been a fast learner inside the Browns' fullback-friendly offense.

Now, Stanton is hoping to again see his name on a team's roster list. This time, he doesn't anticipate any position switches or bizarre number changes.

Stanton is a full-time fullback, and he hopes he's here to stay.

"Now that I'm really comfortable at the fullback position, I feel so much less stressed in this camp," he said. "After so many months of not knowing what was going to happen, I'm just taking it day by day and enjoying the moment."

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