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TheOak 08-14-2013 08:36 AM

New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
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Admittedly, New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson was caught off guard by his run of emotions before last Friday's preseason opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Johnson had imagined what it would be like many times since becoming a sixth-round pick of the Saints out of tiny Tarleton State, but the reality of the moment was still overwhelming.

"It was emotional; I cried," Johnson said Tuesday. "Just being out there on an NFL field was just so emotional, it was like a dream come true. Running out there through the tunnel with the smoke, I usually watch that on TV.

"But actually running out the tunnel was very emotional for me."

But somehow the night got a little easier once the game against the Kansas City Chiefs got going. Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 272-pound converted defensive end, played fairly well in his appearance with the reserves.

Tapped to utilize his speed and quickness off the edge to get after the passer from the "Jack" linebacker position, Johnson didn't record a sack or any tangible statistics against the Chiefs, but he took a step in getting some all-important game experience.

"Football is always going to be football," Johnson said. "Of course the game is a lot more faster and the players are a lot better, but football is football.

"And at the end of the day, you just got to go out there and compete. As long as you're competing you can play at any level."

Johnson, the Saints' largest linebacker, has been given a lot more opportunities to compete than anyone could have predicted coming into camp. Injuries to key outside linebackers like Victor Butler, Junior Gallette, Martez Wilson and Eric Martin have paved the way for Johnson to get extensive snaps with the second-team defense.

Early on, he seemed a little hesitant at the high-profile spot in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense. But in the past couple weeks, his confidence has been gaining.

Looked upon as primarily as a pass rusher, Johnson is showing signs of becoming a more complete player as the Saints head into the second preseason Friday night against the Oakland Raiders.

"Each day he will do something; today it was a couple of spots where you saw some flashes," Saints coach Sean Payton after Tuesday's morning practice. "It's easy to say go rush the passer, but there are other elements to what he has to do, and I think each day he has gotten better.

"So I'm anxious to see these next few preseason games and see how he does just from not only a pass-rush standpoint but playing the run and some of those other elements as well."

Veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who has been a mentor to Johnson this offseason, has been impressed with the progress of the young linebacker in a short amount of time.

"I think he is doing a phenomenal job," Vilma said. "At first he was like any other rookie, he was young and didn't really know what it took to be in the NFL, but I think he is doing a phenomenal job now being aggressive, being physical.

"He's using that body, he's got a big frame and he's strong, and he is using it now to his advantage. I'm excited to see him grow."

Johnson credits a lot of his growth linebackers coach Joe Vitt. Johnson and several of his veteran teammates are having to learn the nuances of the outside linebacker spot after playing defensive end.

"It has been a building process, but I have a good coach in Joe Vitt," Johnson said. "He teaches me how to do the little things right like flipping my hips and using my hands more, so that is really helping me out.

"I am steady building every day, and that is what I am going to keep on doing."

Johnson can see the strides he is making in practice, but he understands there is still quite a ways to go in order to make an impact on the field.

"I've still got a lot more improvement," he said. "I've still got a long way to go but coming from Tarleton State and coming here and having the coaches teach me the right techniques, I have improved a lot."

What it all means in terms of playing opportunities this season, especially with some injured players in front of him returning, remains to be seen. It's likely he will still have to earn his spot on the 53-man roster on special teams.

Still, Johnson's focus right now is to make the most of his opportunity.

"I am just going to do the best I can every day, just get the coaches' trust and then go out there and just compete," he said. "Team is team before me, so I am going to just do whatever is best for the team.

"Whatever I have to do I am going to do and just out there and compete like I've been doing."
New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth | NOLA.com

Danno 08-14-2013 09:13 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
Quote:

What it all means in terms of playing opportunities this season, especially with some injured players in front of him returning, remains to be seen. It's likely he will still have to earn his spot on the 53-man roster on special teams.
Haven't heard much from him so far. I'd imagine he may be the most raw rookie we have on our roster. He's got a high ceiling but can we stash him on the 53 while we wait for him to develop? I doubt the practice squad is a realistic option. I'm hoping number 59 excels on special teams.

jeanpierre 08-14-2013 09:22 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
Still trying to understand drafting a 43 Defensive End to play 34 OLB; Square Pegs/Round Hole...

Rugby Saint II 08-14-2013 01:52 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
We need an athletic LB'er with some size. I doubt that he starts.lol

|Mitch| 08-14-2013 07:55 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Rugby Saint II (Post 517208)
We need an athletic LB'er with some size. I doubt that he starts.lol

6'4" 266 lbs.

4.75 - 40

34 1/2 - vertical

10'2" - broad jump

4.64 - short shuttle

7.69 - three cone

I'd say he has the size and athletic ability to be a damn good 3-4 OLB, just needs experience, because of the rawness...

halloween 65 08-14-2013 08:27 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
I hope he becomes a monster.

rezburna 08-14-2013 08:30 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by |Mitch| (Post 517318)
6'4" 266 lbs.

4.75 - 40

34 1/2 - vertical

10'2" - broad jump

4.64 - short shuttle

7.69 - three cone

I'd say he has the size and athletic ability to be a damn good 3-4 OLB, just needs experience, because of the rawness...

This. Akiem Hicks was raw like this too. So is Armstead. We develop talent.

jnormand 08-14-2013 11:44 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
The guy is a monster. He just needs to be taught. I hope he makes the 53.

homerj07 08-15-2013 08:44 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson showing signs of growth
 
I hope all of our guys become monsters. Each & every one just chews every QB a new buttocks!

:doh:


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