As Robert Johnson finds his comfort level, he is also finding playing time with the Tennessee Titans.
Johnson is comfortable in the defensive system and comfortable enough in the position he is playing to finally make a regular contribution as he enters his third season.
Johnson was a fifth-round pick of the Titans in 2010, and though he was on the 53-man roster, was inactive for all 16 games.
Last year started off even worse, as he was released in final cuts and relegated to the practice squad until a late-season promotion due to injuries. In that, he saw his first NFL action, playing on special teams at the end of 2011.
That means in two years, Johnson has had two learn two defensive systems, play two positions in those systems and for two different defensive coordinators.
“The first defense we had when I first came in, I had to learn that, then we switched that,” Johnson said. “This is my second year into the defense that we have. It’s an adjustment. Last year was my adjusting to the new defense. This year, I know the defense, I just have to pay attention more and be the coach on defense.”
Things are looking up for the former University of Utah star, as defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has installed him as a backup free safety to Michael Griffin and given him a chance in the dimeback role in sub packages.
“It’s a nice step toward getting on the field and playing more,” Johnson said. “Last year, I only played special teams, and this year, it’s still early, but I am playing in the Ruby package (3-2-6) where there’s an extra safety. It feels good to get out there and play around. We’ll see what happens during the season, because I’m planning on playing and helping the team win as many games as I can.”
Johnson has bought into what Gray is selling on defense and it could finally pay off for the 2010 fifth-round pick. He is especially comfortable back at the free safety spot.
“I played free safety in college, and when I got here, they had me learning strong. I never was comfortable enough to be down there in the box playing with the big boys and all that,” Johnson said. “Then I started to adjust and I adjusted too slow, and then a new defense came in and I was at strong and then back at free, and the safeties were interchangeable. But now, Coach Gray has said to me, ‘You’re going to play your primary position, which is free safety.’”
Gray is excited about Johnson as well.
“Robert Johnson looks great to me. If you put him in the middle of the football field and you throw the football up, he can go get it,” Gray said. “He proved that when he was at Utah. He had eight interceptions his senior year. The thing we’ve got to do is put him in position to be smart, and if that means putting him in the middle of the field and he gets eight picks, he gets eight picks, and let him be in a position where he is comfortable to go play football. I think that may be his spot.”