Buddy Johnson’s played just one professional game, last Thursday’s opener against the Dallas Cowboys. So it’s hard to read into what kind of rookie season and future he’ll have. But he already knows there’s lots of areas to improve.
Johnson spoke with reporters Tuesday and was asked what he’s focusing on the rest of the summer.
“I would just say for me getting off blocks,” he responded via the team website. “Not staying on blocks too long, striking and getting off blocks.”
Johnson isn’t a big body at just over six-foot, 229 pounds, so hand use will be key to avoid getting swallowed up by offensive linemen climbing to the second level. Getting off blocks means playing the run effectively. In this defense, if you can’t play the run, you can’t play period.
His performance against the Cowboys was serviceable and competent. He read and blew up a screen pass and finished the day with one solo tackle across 29 snaps defensively and another 16 on special teams. He’ll look to improve on his block deconstruction against the Philadelphia Eagles, though his playing time could decrease a bit with Devin Bush expected to suit up for the first time this year.
Johnson also placed a heavy emphasis on communication.
“My communication, it’s good, but it can get a lot better. Being up here with these guys and seeing how much communication is a big thing, talking to guys, making sure everyone is on the same page. Just going out there with the ultimate confidence communicating. Guys understand that you’re a rookie but still they expect high standards from you to go out and communicate like you’re a vet. Little things like that, you know, just being where my feet are and just continuing to get better however I can.”
Johnson certainly won’t be relied to be a central communicator this season, if he plays at all defensively, but in the preseason, there are not vets to take charge of the calls. If he gets snaps with Calvin Bundage, someone has to be the vet and calling things out. Vince Williams earned his keep eight years in the league not for elite physical or athletic traits but for being a high-IQ player, leader, and communicator. It’s hard to lead if you can’t communicate and Johnson clearly understands its value.
Ideally, he won’t have to play much this season. For him, that makes the next three games all the more important for him. It could be his only defensive snaps of the season. The more he can improve now, the better off he’ll be come 2022 when the coaching staff will be looking for him to make that “second-year” leap.