Defensive Tackle Antonio Johnson Says Credit Should Be Shared with Linemates
INDIANAPOLIS – As Antonio Johnson sees it, there's little sense talking about just him.
Because as he sees it, his position – defensive tackle – and his role with the Colts isn't one that can be effectively discussed if there's just one person in the discussion.
It's a team thing.
And as such, Dan Muir must be mentioned. And Eric Foster.
And Fili Moala.
They're the players who next season could man the Colts' defensive tackle position, and Johnson – entering his third season as a starter at the position for the Colts – said if you're going to talk about him and his role, it's necessary to mention the others, too.
Because without them, he said, he can't do much.
"It's a team effort," Johnson said recently. "I'm very comfortable coming into the season."
That's a comfort that Johnson said grew steadily last season.
And as that comfort grew, so, too, did Johnson's reputation as a player who could play solidly as a starting NFL defensive tackle.
Johnson, who started 15 of 16 regular-season games and three post-season games last season, signed with the Colts midway through the 2008 season off the practice squad of the Tennessee Titans. He moved into the Colts' starting lineup later that season, and finished this past season with 57 tackles and a sack while providing a run-stuffing presence.
Johnson and Muir, Caldwell said, provided the Colts a stoutness on the interior of the line without sacrificing the speed and quickness the team likes on the defensive front.
"The core, with Dan Muir and Antonio Johnson, is two big guys who can move," Caldwell said. "They both give you great effort and are guys who you aren't just going to knock off the ball easily."
Johnson said he understands such praise, and said that at times, he, Muir and fourth-year veteran Eric Foster played well last season.
But he also said improvement can be made.
He said that's particularly true of himself, and during OTAs while praising Muir, Johnson said the other starting tackle – Johnson – could have "done better."
"Last year, we had some ups and downs, all of us, but Dan, he had a heck of a season," Johnson said. "I had a mediocre season, could have done better. That's just how I feel. We all did some good things, but like I say, it (next season) should be totally different."
Johnson said one reason is he, Muir and Foster have year experience togehrer at the position. Another is the potential development of Moala, a second-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft from the University of Southern California.
Johnson, like Muir and Foster, said one major goal for the Colts' interior entering the season is to further improve as a run-defending unit. The Colts took positive steps in that area last season, holding six opponents under 100 yards rushing in the regular season and allowing 126.5 yards rushing per game during the regular season. Until the final two games of the season – losses to the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills after their seeding was clinched – the Colts had allowed 112.4 yards per game rushing.
In a 20-3 AFC Divisional Playoff victory over Baltimore, the Colts held the Ravens to 87 yards on 19 carries. The previous week, the Ravens had rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns in a Wild Card victory at New England.
In a 30-17 victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, the Jets entered as the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense.
The Colts held the Jets to 86 yards rushing on 29 carries.
The Colts did not allow an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards in any of their three postseason games. They allowed the New Orleans Saints 51 yards on 18 carries in the Super Bowl, and in three postseason games, the Colts allowed 224 yards, an average of just under 75 yards a game.
But Johnson, like Muir and Foster, said the Colts never got recognition for being a solid run defense, and said he believes there is major room for improvement in the area.
"The sky's the limit," Johnson said. "Everybody wishes they could do better. Even if they have a great season, everybody wants to do better. There's aways room to get better.
"There's room for getting better every single day in this game."
Johnson said that's a concept that has motivated the group, and it's a concept he said will continue to motivate him. Driving him, too, he said is a theme he said runs through his teammates on the interior of the line: Foster and Muir. Johnson was selected in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, and was on the practice squad of the Titans when the Colts signed him. Neither Muir nor Foster were drafted into the NFL.
Foster and Muir said their beginnings still motivate them, and Johnson said while that factor motivates the unit collectively, even after establishing himself as a front-line NFL player, it continues to serve as inspiration for him as well.
"It really does," Johnson said. "I'm not saying they counted me out, but they (the Titans) have a deep room at the defensive tackle spot. It's all for the best.
"I think about it every time I touch the field. I try to drive myself to do better."