Kevin Johnson has been waiting for patience to pay off for quite some time.
Johnson, a cornerback and 2015 first-round pick from the Houston Texans, never met the hefty expectations that came with his draft selection after he battled foot, wrist and concussion injuries in his first four seasons in the NFL. He played more than 10 games in a season just twice before he played a full 16 games with the Buffalo Bills last season, but he only played in 32 percent of the defensive snaps and served mostly as positional depth.
He signed a one-year deal in April with the Browns, where he'll play alongside the likes of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, and Johnson believes his career could be on the upswing in Cleveland — and for good reason.
The Browns need a slot cornerback to replace the talents of T.J. Carrie, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts as a free agent, and Johnson, who has experience both inside and outside, will be a top competitor entering training camp to land the job. He'll also be needed as a quality insurance option behind Ward and Williams, who both suffered injuries for a portion of 2019.
Johnson will need patience again. With the Browns, though, he finally might be rewarded.
"It was a great opportunity," Johnson said in a recent interview. "With a new great coaching staff, it's a team that's up and coming with a lot of talent. I just wanted to be on a great team and put my best foot forward to help them win."
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The Browns won't need Johnson to take on a starting role on the outside, but that doesn't mean he won't receive a much larger chunk of defensive snaps than what he saw last season in Buffalo.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods wants the Browns to begin the season with a base 4-3 defensive scheme. That leaves room for only four defensive backs and likely just two cornerbacks but the opportunities expand when the team goes to nickel, which uses three defensive backs.
Woods, however, hopes to eventually shift the Browns to a dime system that uses six defensive backs. He doesn't want to implement a change until Cleveland can practice together as a team, which hasn't been feasible due to the offseason restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"It's going to be something that is going to take time to get into, just because of players getting their reps," Woods said. "Eventually, I would like to have a nickel package, where we have two linebackers on the field, but also, just to create better matchups and be a little bit more diverse in our scheme."
A switch could open more playing time for Johnson, who could be used as a versatile third cornerback in a scheme Woods could envision with three safeties or three cornerbacks.
Switch or no switch, Johnson should have an opportunity to build off a rebound season in 2019. With the Bills, Johnson was targeted 44 times and didn't allow a touchdown in the regular season. His five passes defensed were also his most since he made nine during his rookie season.
Most importantly, though, Johnson wants to stay healthy. He'll be 28 when the season begins. These are the prime years of his career.
Last season, however, was a big step in the right direction.
"It was big for me to get those injuries behind me and show them that I can play and stay healthy," Johnson said. "This year, I'm planning on doing the same thing and taking it to another level."
Johnson knows just how important his first season in Cleveland could be for his long-term NFL future. Another quality season could lead to an extension with the Browns.
Johnson is all about patience. If he's the right fit with the Browns, he'll no longer need it.
"I would say this is a really big year for me," Johnson said. "I'm just focused, and it feels very personal for me this year."