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THE DEFENSIVE LINE

Posted Mar 29, 2012

Antonio Johnson has completed five seasons with the Colts. Johnson’s role on the defensive interior is overshadowed by the exploits of players who make eye-popping plays. Still, his role is essential, and he wants to do all he can to help teammates and his club succeed.

INDIANAPOLIS – Some positions more than others find the bright lights of the NFL just the way some schemes highlight the talents of certain players.

 

Still, a team is a 22-member machine and 11 players must be coordinated on defense for it to win.

 

While some teammates are in the headlines frequently, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson goes about his business.  He absorbs blocks so others can prosper.  He dutifully tries to halt an opponent’s rushing game.  Johnson does all he can to create success. 

 

If he can do so and it does not bring personal acclaim, that is all right with him.  Team success, he feels, is better than personal accolades.

 

“I’m an even-keeled type of cat.  I don’t like all the attention,” said Johnson.  “Anything I can do to help my teammates get better, that is what I will do.  If I have to do the dirty work, the grimy work of stopping the run and doing all the nasty work to let the other guys get loose on the edge, I will do it.  I’m not a big, flashy person.  I don’t have to be in the limelight.”

 

Johnson has toiled while teammates like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis cause obvious mayhem.  He performs in the trench and frees up others to make tackles.  If he can create pressure on a quarterback, someone in the secondary might get a takeaway.  It is all in a day’s work for Johnson, and he wants only to maximize the number of his future game days.

 

“Everyone strives to be better in each game you play,” said Johnson.  “Since I’ve been here I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.  Just being in the league this long is a blessing.  I’m ecstatic the Colts gave me a chance to play.  My whole objective is to do what I can to help my team win.

 

“Being able to have a career this long is something I hoped for.  It’s all about longevity and consistent play.  All I am trying to do in addition to being a good teammate is to play to my ability and do it as long as I can.”

 

The Mississippi State product originally was a fifth-round pick of Tennessee in 2007.  Indianapolis claimed him off the Titans’ practice squad later that year, and Johnson has started 33 of 53 games since then.  He had 20 tackles and two passes defensed in 2011 while starting 12 of 16 appearances. 

 

At 6-3, 310, his size is among the largest on the team.  He wants to maintain a mental edge on opponents and knowing all he can about his position and the roles of his teammates.

 

“For me, I feel the biggest thing is the mental approach,” said Johnson.  “In this game, the strong survive and the weak die off.  I basically try to be strong mentally.  The physical tools are there.  You work out and you’re constantly running each day.  You try to stay healthy and stay in shape, but you have to keep the mental edge.  You have to study and watch film.  You have to stay strong up top.

 

“I’ve seen quite a bit in my career, but there still is room to learn.  I can learn a lot more about my position, about my teammates’ positions.  You have to know more than just what you are supposed to do.  I am doing everything in my power to know everything about our defense.

 

“This game is a collective team effort.  You have to look at it that way.  It’s bigger than one guy.  I always try to be a great teammate and be a team player.  For some guys as the money grows on this (the NFL) level, it is hard just to be a team guy, but that is what I am, no matter what.”

 

Johnson started four of eight games in 2008, while he had 15 starts in 2009 and opened two of 14 outings in 2010.  He totaled 31, 57 and 26 tackles in those respective seasons.  Johnson has been in the middle of many frays, and he is accountable to his teammates.

 

“As a defensive lineman, you just can’t freelance.  You have to know what your teammates are doing and what their job is,” said Johnson.  “You have to have communication for you to do your job and for the team to succeed.  There are a lot of positions in this league where you have to be smart, and the defensive line positions fit in that mold.  We’re relentless.  We play ball on every play.  You get to be violent without cause.  It’s lovely for me.  I love my position.”

 

Johnson is one of the more selfless performers on the team.  He likes being a part of the defensive cast and rooting for his teammates.

 

“Dwight (Freeney) and Robert (Mathis), I’ve never seen guys like them in my life,” said Johnson.  “For two guys to just dominate their position for so long is amazing.  I’m happy to be a part of a defense they’re on.  I feel like I put my two cents in here and there to help their success a little bit, but it’s amazing how they work together and continue to get the job done.  They are true professionals.  Fili Moala, Drake Nevis and Eric Foster, you can tell they love the game.  I think Fili and I have built a great relationship by playing together.  We talk here and over the phone.  We communicate, and I think he will have a good year.” 

 

Johnson will be under new leadership in 2012 with Head Coach Chuck Pagano coming to Indianapolis from Baltimore, where he coordinated one of the NFL’s most fearsome defenses.  Greg Manusky is the new defensive coordinator, coming over from San Diego.  Johnson is all about learning what his new mentors want.

 

“I like the new (coaching) staff.  I am looking forward for things to get rolling,” said Johnson.  “I’m ready to see how things are going to play out.  I am excited about the future.  I think we’ll be a more aggressive style defense, rather than sit back.  I think we’ll have a lot of success if we buy in and do what we’re coached to do.  I think they’ll have a great scheme for us.  We just have to go out and be players and let them be coaches.

 

“When it’s time for competition, we were here to compete.  I want to be the best, and I will do all I can to beat my opponent.  Everyone tells me I’m so different on the field than off it.  I’m quiet and even-keeled off the field, but I love to compete.  I’m a different person, and I’ve always played that way, ever since high school.  Evidently I’ve been doing something right, and I will continue.  I want to squeeze all I can out of my talent.” 

 

Freeney (8.5 sacks) and Mathis (9.5) spearheaded the defense line in 2011.  Jamaal Anderson had three sacks among his 24 tackles.  Moala had 22 tackles in 14 starts at left tackle.  Tyler Brayton played in 16 games, while Jerry Hughes and Ricardo Mathews appeared in 12 games. 

Mario Addison played in three games.  Mathis will return for a tenth season.  Brayton and Eric Foster are unrestricted free agents.  Anderson now is with Cincinnati.  Tackle Drake Nevis aims to return from an injury that ended his 2011 season after five appearances.  Ollie Ogbu was on the practice squad all last season, and Justin Hickman and Brandon Peguese have been signed since the end of the season.  Cory Redding has been signed as an unrestricted free agent.  Redding has completed nine seasons with Detroit, Seattle and Baltimore and has 407 career tackles, 25.5 sacks, nine fumbles recovered, four fumbles forced and 12 passes defensed in starting 101 of 131 career games.  He was under Pagano in Baltimore the last two seasons.  Indianapolis also added defensive end Brandon McKinney, 6-2, 345, as an unrestricted free agent from Baltimore.  In 61 career games (six starts) with San Diego (2006-07) and Baltimore (2008-11), he has totaled 82 tackles, 42 solo, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two passes defensed. 

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