Ability to Play Multiple Positions Just His Thing, Johnson Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Charlie Johnson won't say what he does is easy.
Johnson in NFL three seasons has taken the working philosophy of the Colts' offensive line – that every player be able to play multiple positions, play them well and do so at a moment's notice – and turned it into a personal specialty.
He has played guard. He has worked at center in practice. He has played left tackle. He has played right tackle. Johnson, according to Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, even has worked as a tight end in short-yardage packages.
It's a difficult task, his teammates tell you. And his ability to do it as well as he does is unusual, Dungy will tell you.
But to hear Johnson tell it, while it's not easy, it's not anything unusual.
Not to him, anyway. Not anymore.
"I've been doing it for a while," Johnson said this week as the Colts (2-2), the five-time defending AFC South champions, prepared to play the Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I've been doing it since I've been here. It's sort of been my MO (mode of operation). It's how I've stuck around for a third year now. It's just something I work on.
"It's just what I do."
According to Dungy, what Johnson is expected to do Sunday is start at left tackle for a third consecutive game, having moved to the position shortly after second-year veteran Tony Ugoh sustained a groin injury in Week 2.
It's not the first time Johnson has played left tackle for the Colts.
And that week in Minnesota wasn't first time Johnson has moved positions for the Colts. Sometimes, he has done it in an emergency. Sometimes it has been planned. Sometimes, he has played as a reserve; other times, as a starter.
But whatever the circumstances, Johnson – a sixth-round selection from Oklahoma State in the 2006 NFL Draft – typically has played well when called upon, Dungy said, significantly helping the Colts depth and versatility in recent seasons.
"It's really rare where a guy can play both tackles," Dungy said. "Usually, you're looking for a right tackle or a left tackle, but for a guy to play both tackles and play guard – and (Colts offensive line coach) Howard (Mudd) has worked him some at snapping the ball, emergency center.
"He can do a lot of things, and that's been really helpful to us."
How dependable has Johnson been for the Colts? Consider:
In three-plus NFL seasons, he has missed just two games because of injury, playing 16 games as a rookie, then 14 last season. He has played all four games this season.
How reliable? Consider:
In Super Bowl XLI, as a rookie with one NFL start, he replaced injured Ryan Diem at right tackle, playing well enough that Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said afterward he didn't know immediately that Diem had left the game.
How versatile? Consider:
As a rookie, he started a game at right tackle, then relieved Diem at the position in the Super Bowl. Last season, he missed the first two games, then played the next four games as a reserve. In the seventh game, he replaced an injured Ugoh at left tackle. He played there five games, then replaced Diem at right tackle for the final five games of the regular season.
This season, he competed with rookie Mike Pollak at guard throughout training camp, and started there the first two games of the regular season. When Ugoh was injured against Minnesota, Johnson moved to left tackle and has remained there since.
"You learn (from watching Johnson that) you can't get comfortable at one position," Pollak said. "You have to expect yourself to understand all the positions and be willing to go into any position the coach wants you to play and be willing to compete at a high level.
"It's definitely not easy. It goes to show you what a great player Charlie is. All camp, he was working inside, and now that they've asked you to step outside – that's a big change for him that he's had to go through mentally, but he has done an outstanding job."
Johnson said he has learned in two and a half years to adapt quickly and easily. This past off-season, he said he would start a typical practice at right tackle, then "just move on down the line." Earlier this season, when asked on a Monday where he thought he would play the following Sunday he joked that he didn't worry about such things until he arrived at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center Wednesdays to begin game preparations.
"That's about all I can do," Johnson said, "I just go where I'm told. It makes me feel good that wherever a need is, they feel comfortable putting me there. It's something I've worked on my whole career, and it's paying off.
"It just comes with the territory. That's the way I've been. That's the way we work here. A lot of guys play a lot of different spots. I'm no different than any of the young guys, whether they're playing guard or center or any of that."
Asked this week if he preferred outside or inside, Johnson laughed.
"I like being on the field – just as long as I'm out there playing," he said. "It could be anywhere."
And while this week – and for the past two games – it has been at left tackle, Johnson said no matter where he is asked to play, he will play. And while it's not easy, it's not anything unusual.
Not to him, anyway. Not anymore.
"That's what Coach Dungy always says," Johnson said. "That's what Howard always says, 'You don't know when you're number is going to be called.' We only have so many guys on the roster. It's bound to happen. Injuries are going to happen. People are going to get hurt.
"You may not be classified as a starter, but like my case: I ended up starting 10 games last year. That's just the way we approach it as a team. That's what I tell those young guys: 'You never know.'''