Anthony Johnson was once a top recruit coming out of high school, but his career path was relatively downhill from there. Johnson went to play football at LSU and declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season, despite scouts hoping that he would stay another year to develop. Johnson had appeared in 40 games in his time at LSU, but he had only recorded 16 starts by the time he declared for the draft, leading to him going undrafted.
During his rookie season in the NFL, Johnson weighed in at 320 pounds. He was sluggish and failed to produce results, landing on injured reserved to close out the season.
Since then, Johnson has slimmed down to 280 pounds, a weight much more suited for his skill set. Even Bill Belichick didn’t recognize the newly slim Johnson, asking “Do we have the right guy here?” when meeting him for a workout.
Johnson made his preseason debut on Thursday and impressed many. Even with so much depth at the defensive tackle position, Johnson stood out against the Chicago Bears. If Johnson can follow up Thursday’s game with more solid performances, we may just see the second year player on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Johnson played in just 13 snaps, providing quality reps with the first team defense. Let’s take a look at the highlights of Johnson’s night in week two of the preseason.
Johnson primarily served as an interior pass rusher on third downs with the Patriots’ first unit. Johnson executed a veteran move on just his second snap of the game: when you can’t get to the quarterback, go up.
Johnson gets a good initial push on the left guard, but when the guard stands his ground, Johnson locks his eyes onto Jay Cutler and bats the ball to halt the drive.
Yes, it’s just the preseason, but Johnson’s batted ball was a crucial stop to a punishing Bears drive.
While the play above was negated by a penalty, it doesn’t take anything away from Johnson’s motor.
Johnson lined up as the three-technique defensive tackle, meaning he’s outside of the guard, with standout rusher Trey Flowers on the opposing side of the center. Johnson had great burst on this play and successfully bullrushed the guard back, opening a gap for Flowers on the loop.
Johnson’s 280-pound frame is a factor on this play. He’s able to get off the ball fast to rush the passer, but he still has the power to run through the middle of the offensive guard.
The duo of Johnson and Flowers wreaked havoc again, connecting for a sack on Cutler. Once again, Johnson made an impact on a third down, an always important quality to have in the NFL.
The play was perfectly executed all around by the Patriots defensive line against the Bears’ first team offensive line. Chris Long used his speed to easily get around RT Bobby Massie, Flowers murdered rookie LG Cody Whitehair, and Johnson cleaned up on the interior.
Sidenote: This Flowers-Johnson interior combination will definitely be one to watch the rest of this preseason. Both have incredible motors and strength.
While the goal of offensive tackles is to wash edge rushers out of the play, interior lineman are trusted to hold onto defensive tackles at the line of scrimmage, so the quarterback could step up in the pocket. Cutler does just that, stepping up in the pocket when outside pressure became apparent, but it was right into the arms of Johnson.
The sack was recorded five yards in the backfield, and even if Johnson had not recorded half a sack here, it still would have been a major win for him. Johnson collapsed the interior of the pocket which is all you can ask for from a defensive tackle.
Johnson showed that he is more than just a third down pass rusher on this play, producing a tackle for loss on first down.
This inside zone play is typically a simple play for an offensive lineman. The right tackle, Massie, is supposed to reach the three-technique, Johnson, to provide a possible cutback lane for the running back; however, Johnson makes this anything but simple.
Johnson reads this play from the start, shucking Massie and ending up in the backfield for an easy tackle. Once again, Johnson shows good burst at the snap and uses an effective “rip” move to get through Massie.
Johnson’s explosiveness and power to disrupt the rush in the backfield give us another glimpse at the player that he may become if he can put it all together.
Another obvious passing down, another pressure for Johnson.
This time, the pressure came on a loop to the outside with Long. With Johnson lined up as a three-technique, he’s given a clear path after Long crashes inside the “B-gap” between Massie and RG Kyle Long.
This play is massive error at the hands of Massie, yet the play’s worth noting due to Johnson’s speed to get around the outside.
Johnson flashed his speed and his motor again on this play, and, dare I say it, but he looked like former Patriot Dominique Easley.
Sooooo...Anthony Johnson to take over Dominique Easley's role?— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) August 19, 2016
Rich posted this wonderful idea onto my timeline last night, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Johnson isn’t as athletically talented as former first-round pick Easley, yet, for an undrafted rookie free agent, Johnson could turn out to be a real gem if used right.
Moving on in the preseason, he’ll continue to be used as a third down interior rusher with the first team defense, and he will likely also get his time as a two, or even three down tackle with the second team.
It’s just one performance, but the tape points to an increased role for Johnson in the preseason with more eyes tuned towards his play. He’s competing for playing time within a very deep group at defensive tackle, including the likes of Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, and Vincent Valentine, and we’ll see if he’s truly meant to make the opening day roster.