The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are considering drafting Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson with their first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Johnson met with the Bucs at the combine, and the team recently brought him in for a pre-draft visit to One Buc Place. The team is said to be very high on the Selma, Alabama product.
Johnson spoke exclusively with Pewter Report this week and said his visit with the Bucs went very well. He spent a lot of time with defensive coordinator Jim Bates, head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik.
"It went real well," Johnson said. "I enjoyed meeting with the staff. I really enjoyed my time with Coach Bates and Coach Morris. I was mainly meeting with Coach Bates, Coach Morris and Mr. Dominik.
"I'm from the South so I enjoyed being not too far from home. It seems like a young team and a young staff. That is always real fun to be around. You have that energy, and it seems to me like they are going to be competing for a Super Bowl championship in the near future, and I would love to be part of it."
In his collegiate career, Johnson put up some huge numbers recording 107 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, 10 batted passes, 10 forced fumbles, and three blocked kicks. The 6-foot-7, 266-pound Johnson has tremendous physical abilities to go along with his prototype size for a 4-3 defensive end.
Johnson had one the best combine workouts among defensive linemen. He ran the 40-yard dash at 4.68 seconds, and ranked highly in a number of the drills. Some have alleged that Johnson is a workout warrior that does not translate to the field.
In the time leading up the draft, Johnson has come under criticism from a number of media pundits for taking plays off and playing with an inconsistent motor. Johnson disagrees with those sentiments, and said he cleared up those allegations for the Bucs and other teams when he was on visits.
"I sat and watched film with the staffs and we've talked about that," said Johnson. "The teams sat down and watched film with me and they saw what was going on. I explained what we were doing and what my assignment was: whether it was to play containment, rush the quarterback, dropping in coverage, or whatever it was supposed to be. I was able to explain it all, and they all were agreeable to my explanation. I don't worry about what people say because I do what coaches ask of me, and I do what teammates need me to do. That's what I did this year. My focus is to go out and win games, and have fun.
"I had a lot of responsibility in our defense, and was asked to do a lot of different things. Coming back for my senior year, I was asked to do a lot of different stuff (by the coaches), and I was told that I might have to take criticism for it and my numbers would be lower, but I was happy to do what the team needed. It is what it is, and I don't have any regrets. I enjoyed playing for Georgia Tech."
Johnson's opponents would probably disagree with the criticism as well. In his senior season Johnson recorded nine sacks, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 46 tackles, three forced fumbles, seven passes defensed, one blocked kick, and one interception returned 26 yards for a touchdown.
Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe is expected to be drafted in the top-five picks of the first-round this year. Monroe said that Johnson was the hardest player he had to block, and was the best defensive lineman he went against. In past years Monroe practiced daily against St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Chris Long, who was the second overall selection in the draft last year. Against Monroe and Virginia, Johnson had four tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, and one forced fumble.
"Yeah, I don't like praising myself. I prefer people to ask my opponents what they thought of me," said Johnson. "That is more important, what they think about me. They can give a better gauge than myself. With what Eugene said, being a top guy (in the draft), that meant a lot."
Sources have told Pewter Report that Tampa Bay is high on Johnson, and is strongly considering him for the 19th overall pick in the draft. Johnson has the ability to play left and right defensive end. The Bucs spent the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft on defensive end Gaines Adams, and are looking for a pass rusher to pair with Adams for seasons to come. Recently on NFL Network, Pewter Report's Jim Flynn projected the Bucs to take Johnson with their first-round pick. In speaking with Pewter Report, Johnson said that he would be ecstatic if that was the case.
"I sure hope you all are right because I would love to come to Tampa," Johnson said.
If Tampa Bay passes on Johnson it may have to see him regularly. Johnson is visiting with the Atlanta Falcons today, and there is talk that the Carolina Panthers are looking into trading up from their second-round pick to get Johnson. They could also draft Johnson in the first round if they trade defensive end Julius Peppers. The franchised Peppers has repeatedly stated that he wants to leave Carolina. Johnson has met with all 32 teams, and has gone on visits to a many cities. While Johnson said he would love to play for the Buccaneers, he will be happy continuing to play football as a professional.
"I've been playing football since I was 10 years old," said Johnson. "Watching football is part of my first memories. When I was a little kid I'd put pillows in my shirts and run around and crash into the wall. When I finally got to play when I was 10, I broke my arm in my very first game. I was crying after the game, and told my dad my arm was hurting. But my parents, knowing me, knew I was crying because we had lost not because of my arm. I ended up getting a cast and was able to come back to play and finish the season. It just re-enforced how much I love football.
"At Georgia Tech, I missed two games, but other than that I never missed practice or a game, regardless of what was going on. I love the game, and being with the team. I'm always focused on being a team player and doing what was required of me for my team."
For Johnson's part he plans on continuing to work hard as a professional, and do what his coaches ask of him, wherever that may be.
"When I get to Tech I was 210-pounds," Johnson said. "I've worked hard to add 50 or more pounds since then. It has been a grind of working hard and trying to be the best. All my teammates and coaches and stuff say that nobody is going to outwork me.
"I will do whatever the coaches ask me. I don't come off the field. I've covered kicks on special teams. During the week in practice I work hard, and study. I focus on the game plan install, and then the game comes easy."
The Bucs are in need of defensive linemen, and have struggled to get a consistent pass rush over the past three seasons. Not since Simeon Rice in 2005 have the Bucs had a player with double-digit sack totals. The Buccaneers hope that Bates' new scheme will help to produce more sacks for Tampa Bay. Johnson could be part of that, and the team told him that during his visit.
"Coach Bates has had a lot of success with his defensive lines," said Johnson. "He coached Jason Taylor, and said we are very similar players. Just having an extended time to speak with him on the visit was a great experience. In just a little bit of time he was able to teach me things about the game. That was very interesting and fun."