Before the commencement of offseason practices, not many Detroit Lion followers pegged SS Isaiah Johnson as a candidate to make the final roster, yet alone start. With offseason acquisitions Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson, S/CB Johnson Bademosi and fourth-round selection Miles Killebrew, it was logical to assume that there would be no room at the inn for the second-year Johnson.
After day two of mandatory minicamp, last year’s priority undrafted free agent looks to be in good shape regarding his roster spot. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound safety is taking full advantage of a hobbled Glover Quin. While Quin sits out for team drills due to precautionary reasons, the underdog Johnson fills the vacancy beside apparent incumbent Rafael Bush. Once the starting free safety Quin is fully recovered, Bush will slide back to strong, and Johnson will revert to his reserve role.
The talent has always been visible when watching the hard-hitting safety, but in order to make this year’s squad, he had to get back to the basics. More specifically and in his own words: “fundamentals.”
Per Kyle Meinke of Mlive:
“Man, that’s just what it is,” he said after the first day of minicamp Tuesday. “It’s just one of those things that maybe you start off focusing on them, but stray away as the season goes on and you get tired physically and mentally. But it’s all on fundamentals, and that’s the thing I’m just doing right now. Just focusing on fundamentals.”
According to coaches, the contrast of rookie Isaiah Johnson to this year’s Johnson has been stark. We all know head coach Jim Caldwell is a softie when it comes to high-character students of the game, so naturally, Caldwell is rewarding Johnson’s hard work and unrelenting dedication.
“(Johnson) does just a tremendous job of adapting to what we’ve asked him to do,” Caldwell said. “Over the last year I think he’s learned quite a bit about the position, and he continues to get better. He’s hungry, he’s enthusiastic about what he’s doing, obviously. You would think most guys would be, but he’s very, very studious. Isaiah’s looking for an opportunity to try to make a mark. He’s certainly making that happen.”
— Lions Report (@lions_fanly) June 15, 2016
“Making a mark” in the NFL scene is no easy task. Although undrafted, the Lions were serious about obtaining the safety from Georgia Tech. Former GM Martin Mayhew lured Johnson away from other teams with a $12,000 signing bonus–the most of any Lions UDFA.
Maybe it was a bit rash to count out such a sought after athlete, especially one with so much room to improve and only one season under his belt. Now in year two, Johnson is feeling more aware of his surroundings and can react quicker to his reads.
“I guess the biggest difference I see now is just being a student of the game again, and just knowing situational awareness,” Johnson said. “That helps me anticipate stuff like, you know, if it’s first-and-10, which plays they may or may not run, compared to a third-and-short or whatever. So it’s just knowing what to expect.”
The starting repetitions may be temporary, but his current standing shouldn’t be overlooked as insignificant. With all the raw tools Johnson does possess, he could be a real threat if the mental aspect of the game develops. Not exactly the news you want to hear if you are Tavon Wilson or utility man Don Carey, who now both appear to be on the outside looking in with the Johnson’s unexpected upheaval.
“Overall, I just feel great. So much better than last year.”
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) June 15, 2016