This week we check back in with the West Hyattsville, Maryland native and former Boston College standout John Johnson, on his transition from the ACC, a triumphant Senior Bowl and firmly establishing himself as a key starter on the resurgent LA Rams secondary. I caught up with him after his team’s victorious 33-0 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals at Twickenham on Sunday.
The transition from third-round selection (92 overall) in this spring’s NFL Draft, the rise of Boston College’s former four-year standout at the safety position, John Johnson, has been seamless and no less impressive.
Not content with simply making the final cut of fifty-two, the outstanding scholar has been an impressive factor within what has been a formidable Rams defensive unit. Wasting little time on the back of a career high 11 defensive stops that helped lead the Eagles to a Quick Lane Bowl victory in December, the former team captain such has seen his impact grow exponentially through the opening seven weeks of the NFL season.
Johnson’s snap count had already been increasing on a weekly basis, before making his first full start two weeks ago in the narrow 16-10 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks. A statement game for the marked by his picking off of Russell Wilson and returning the ball a full 69 yards, just short of a maiden touchdown on his inaugural start.
Totalling 18 tackles, 3 passes broken up and an interception through those seven weeks, the former Boston College Eagle has made an impact, forcing himself into the starting lineup and impressing, as he did in Chestnut Hill, with his size, instincts, intelligence and sound, physical tackling ability, both up close to the line of scrimmage, crashing down inside to force a run for no gain during Sunday’s first quarter and in space on the ball carrier against the run.
He caught the eye at Twickenham, his ease of movement, quickness and vision allowing him to close on the ball quickly, while covering large areas of the field between the sidelines to maintain tight coverage in zone between the sidelines and as a strong tackler to both running backs and wide receivers. It was impressive to see Johnson display the very strengths to his game that he showed throughout his career with the Eagles, as you can see, reinforcing what we saw during his impressive four-year career in Chestnut Hill.
His positional flexibility, thanks to his movement, athleticism, size and feel for the game were played out on Sunday, giving the Rams a moving chess piece where he influenced the Arizona pass and run game. I’ve no doubt that he will continue his steep upward trajectory and will continue going from strength to strength and a long, fruitful career in the NFL. Once again, as he did in Dublin twelve months ago, despite in a losing effort, he caught my eye, avenging that defeat to the Yellow Jackets in a team effort to shut out the Arizona Cardinals.
I caught up with John in a triumphant Los Angeles Rams locker room after the close of play on Sunday.
⇒ You’ve already had the chance to play overseas with Boston College last September, in the College Football Classic in Dublin. How did that experience compare with being in London as an NFL player?
‘When we came over in college it was a lot more structured. Everything we did was with the team and we had a little time to explore the Aviva Stadium and the city of Dublin. This trip (to London) has been more fun’.
‘There’s definitely big differences between here and the Dublin trip but I enjoyed both of them and it is a chance of a lifetime’.
Really liked the movement ability/ball skills of Boston College safety John Johnson today. Was one of the more comfortable of that position: pic.twitter.com/bJqFhLgKDf
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) January 25, 2017
How big is the difference from going from the ACC to the NFL and what is the transition?
‘I think the ACC is the best conference in college football (we both nod in agreement), I just have to say that. But good players are good players everywhere, whether that’s in D-II, or D- I, they will find you. The Atlantic Coast Conference prepared me, while I had some great coaches I was blessed to be around. We ran a ton of pro schemes similar to what we are doing here and it definitely helped out. I couldn’t tell you how big the gap is from conference to conference to the NFL, but good players are good players and they will find you. I don’t think the gap is that great, but it is hard to pinpoint’.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) April 29, 2017
⇒ You shone at the Senior Bowl in February. What would be your advice to other players from mid-majors programmes, some of whom are routinely written off, in making the most of the off-season NFL Draft process?
‘Once you graduate, the postseason is huge and the Senior Bowl helped me a lot. My advice would be to take it one step at a time, try and be a pro about your game. Even in college, you can treat your body like a pro and study like a pro. Be about your game, be a student the game and everything will work out’.
⇒ What are your prospects for Boston College this season? The running game has been so impressive.
‘They’ve just strung together two ACC wins, 4-4 right now, the running game and they are getting after it. If they can scrape out a couple more wins, get to a bowl game and win it’.
⇒ A big thank you to John Johnson who you can follow at @iamjohnthethird
⇒ Cover Image: Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports
CFB Playoff: Who can we Trust?
It was a question myself and fellow college football enthusiast Ben Isaacs (@tweetsfromben) pondered in the bowels of Twickenham Stadium this past weekend. The result was a consensus that there are in reality so few teams we can really, truly trust.
Of course we came up with Alabama, but we said it with such little enthusiasm and a sense of foreboding. ‘Boringly good’ certainly applies. It all seems very concrete right now.
It is fair to say that the past two weeks in the 2017/18 college football campaign have seen a number of preseason ‘contenders’ trip over themselves, many fatally.
Just as we were prepared to pin our flags to the mast and anoint Washington to be one of those ‘sure-fire’ top four teams we could rely upon, they served up a goose egg in Tempe last time out, defeated by a previously underwhelming Arizona State team 13-6. So much for that then.
Fellow in-state neighbours Washington State, despite being hugely impressive this season and boasting a highly talented roster on both sides of the ball and a running game (!!) that impressive Mike Leach could one day be comfortable accepting it were another looking like top-four material. That was until last Saturday evening in Berkeley, the Cougars producing an awful offensive display on the way to a 37-3 defeat to the California Bears . A defeat so distasteful and perplexing, head coach Leach went on to describe his team as, ‘soft’. He wasn’t a happy Mike Leach.
In his post-game presser, Mike Leach somehow found ways to roast reporters, Luke Falk’s sliding ability, & players who don’t like the cold: pic.twitter.com/uKZLiH11tS
— Lindsay Joy (@SWXLindsayJoy) October 22, 2017
So no Cougars either then.
However, there is Ohio State. Remember them? The Buckeye’s are so seldomly spoken of thanks to another early season defeat, this time coming in week two at the hands of Oklahoma at the Horseshoe (31-16). However, despite the loss, it is bewildering to me that they seemingly have been cast aside, yet in my opinion can in no way be written off, recovering with a current five-win streak. The Buckeyes get to face standout conference leaders Penn State (7-0) this weekend at home and also get to face in-form Michigan State (6-1) again in the home comforts of Columbus. If they knock off the Nittany Lions then the way is clear to run the table and they will have to be in.
As Ben and I agreed wholeheartedly, Ohio State possesses the depth of talent across every position that make them the only team capable of defeating Alabama in a one off-national championship game, many if not most will be playing in the NFL in the coming years – they are the most talented player by player in all of college football. This makes Urban Meyer’s program a dangerous threat, a team that has gotten their ‘bad day at the office’ out of their system early and once they hit momentum they are a tough school to stop. Who would put it past JT Barrett to sign off his illustrious Buckeyes career with a national championship. Don’t write them off just yet, however, they are on the flip side treading a tight rope, another defeat and that would be another to bite the dust.
Oklahoma have the pieces in place on both sides of the ball marshalled by Heisman Trophy front runner Baker Mayfield, the finest improviser in all of college football. However, as predictable as the passing of time, the Sooners continue to drop games from a position of strength and switch off. The bug reared its head again this season with a home ‘upset’loss to an underrated ad talented Iowa State, despite being a three touchdown favourite. A cross-state road trip to Stillman to face Oklahoma State, another contender who blow hot and cold at the best of times despite their riches on offence, for ‘Bedlam’ is a throw your coins in the air and hope for the best prediction and a potentially monumental home fixture with Big-12 leaders TCU on November 11th.
So who does that leave? Well little mentioned programs yet consistently relaible teams would be Texas Christian (TCU) and breaking almost unnoticed into contention, Notre Dame, both having faced tough schedules to this point and just as testing second halves to the season ahead of them.
Gary Patterson’s TCU teams are always so well coached and drilled as a given and have outstanding talent on both sides of the field, led by senior quarterback Kenny Hill, a tough running game headed by Kyle Hicks and dangerous talent off the edge in junior star Ben Bonoglu. I’m particularly guilty of affording the Horned Frogs greater consideration this offseason. Hill is quietly playing himself into first round (by our grading) NFL Draft round contention. Having worked hard to remove the risky plays from his game, he even achieved the feat against West Virginia, scoring through the air, on the ground and as a receiver in the same, key conference game.
The trenches are where football games are won and lost and no where more has this been graphically displayed when watching the Irish this season. The outstanding duo of LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quentin Nelson, both man-mountains on the left side have bullied their opponents, opening gaping holes with their physical punishing style and NFL size, dwarfing defensive linemen in the process. The outstanding duo has released standout junior running back Josh Adams and impressive dual-threat freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush to an outstanding 7 yards per attempt and 18 touchdowns, wearing down opposing defences in the process. In the passing game they have closed the door on edge rushers, giving their quarterback the perfect platform from which to succeed. Their only loss came at the hands of the outstanding defensive force that are undefeated SEC East leaders Georgia (7-0) 19-20, as an impressive defeat you could have at this point. Having knocked off Michigan State on the road and USC last time out in South Bend, ion the Irish can win out then they have to be cemented into the playoff. First up comes a monumental test against the stifling defensive beast that is NC State – their only crumb of comfort lies in this game being on home turf. Trips to early, prospective conference leaders in Miami and Stanford prove how tough a schedule the Irish are taking on this year, far tougher than anyone else in college football. Win and they are in.
The aforementioned Georgia (7-0) are the closest thing to an NFL team on the field right now and Kirby Smart’s pro-style 3-4 defence has been simply sucking the life out of any offence that dares challenge it so far and
For me TCU and Notre Dame are the stories of the season at this the half way stage. Afforded such little attention, both schools have gone about their business with impressive consistency, skilled coaching, fundamental discipline and a determination to continue churning out dominating performances on a weekly basis.
While the more fancied, ‘sure-fire’ contenders trip over themselves, get caught thinking toomfar ahead or taking their foot off the gas to leave them in catch up mode, both TCU and Notre Dame have it all in front of them to not only make the final four but challenge the seemingly flawless Crimson Tide.
Then for the same reason Ohio State have been something of an afterthought, Clemson, with their one loss resume at the hands of Syracuse in week seven still remain in the mix to repeat, for a third successive national championship game with Alabama. However, having stepped into the shoes of Deshaun Watson this season, the loss to injury of exciting dual-threat talent Kelly Bryant is perhaps a more significant factor in having the Tigers in the back of our minds. One look at their remaining schedule and it is clear they possess the most favourable route back into the top four. For now, despite sitting at 6-1, they are looking from the outside in, but with their undoubted pedigree and that loss last time out in the rear view mirror, Dabo Swinney’s team, backed up by a defence loaded with future NFL talent, cannot be discounted.
Yet six into four won’t go, someone will be cast aside between now and January. With Ohio State winning out and forcing themselves back into the reckoning, Georgia enforcing proceedings and previously spurned TCU and Notre Dame playing with a significant chip on their shoulder, the 24-carat gold national championship trophy may not have ‘Alabama’ etched into it just yet.
What will this weekend bring?
Toughest Remaining Games
at Auburn (6-2)
at Georgia Tech (4-2)
at Penn State (7-0)
vs Michigan St. (6-1)
at Oklahoma (6-1)
vs NC State (6-1)
at Miami (6-0)
at Stanford (6-2)
vs Georgia Tech (4-2)
at NC State (6-1)
⇒ Live College Football
Saturday 28th October
1630: COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMEDAY
1700: 22 West Virginia vs 11 Oklahoma State
2030: Florida vs 3 Georgia
All BT Sport/ESPN
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