Recently-Signed Johnson Makes Quick Impact for Colts in First Two Games
INDIANAPOLIS – Antonio Johnson said he never lost confidence.
Johnson, a second-year defensive tackle with the Colts, said even while he spent a year and a half on the frustrating fringe of his dream, and even while he rehabbed and waited, never did he question his ability to play in the NFL.
Not while he spent a season on the Tennessee Titans' injured reserve list.
And not while he spent another half season on their practice squad.
So, when the Colts signed him to their active roster on November 4, Johnson said he wasn't really surprised and he wasn't really not surprised.
Basically, he said, he was just ready.
"You've just got to come in, be focused, go out and give it your all," Johnson said this week as the Colts (6-4) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Cal., Sunday at 8:15 p.m.
"I just kept working hard every week, and I prepared every week as if I was going to play."
That approach proved effective the past two weeks.
Johnson (6-feet-3, 310 pounds), a fifth-round selection by the Titans in the 2007 NFL Draft from Mississippi State, moved quickly into a key reserve role after joining the Colts, making eight tackles in Indianapolis' 24-20 over Pittsburgh two weeks ago and four more this past week in a victory over Houston.
Two games, 12 tackles, and a big impact at a position at which the Colts – after the preseason retirement of Quinn Pitcock and the early-season release of Ed Johnson – had searched much of the season for depth and effectiveness.
Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said this week while Johnson was effective against Houston, teams such as Pittsburgh and San Diego – teams that emphasis power running games – are where he could be most effective because of his size and strength.
"It was a different type of game for him (vs. Houston)," Dungy said. "Not so much a straight-ahead power game, but a lot of stretch plays and reach blocks. . . . This upcoming game (at San Diego) will probably be more his style of game with a lot more powers and double teams."
Johnson said he's not as concerned with the style of opponent these days than taking advantage of an opunity for which he waited a season and a half.
He sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament early in his first training camp with the Titans, and missed the season on injured reserve.
"It was pretty difficult, but every day, I went in the training room in attack-mode," Johnson said. "I took my rehab very seriously. When it was time for me to go back out and play, I took that seriously also. In rehab, you've just got to go and work hard every day. There's no time off in rehab.
"It's not an easy time, but you just have to stay motivated and keep good people in your circle. You have to be positive about a situation instead of being negative. I just wanted to be positive, so that's what I did. I attacked my rehab and came back strong."
He rehabilitated the injury, and after spending training camp and preseason with the Titans, he was released after the team's final preseason game.
He re-signed to the practice squad, and although he called his release disappointing, he said he focused on preparation rather than worrying about his situation.
"I just waited on my opportunity, and when it came, I did my best to take advantage of it," Johnson said. "At some point, I thought I'd get the opportunity – if I worked hard, and trusted in the Lord. It's all about faith."
Johnson said when the Colts called, he was excited and optimistic about his chances to fit with the team. The Colts and Titans both employ four-man defensive fronts, with an emphasis on pressuring the quarterback.
"They're big on pass rush, big on stopping the runs and big off getting off (double-)teams," he said. "I was like, 'This is a good opportunity. So, yeah, I'll go.'''
Mostly, Johnson said he was thankful to have an opportunity, and ready to take advantage of it.
"I'm just happy to be playing, to be out on the field, competing," Johnson said. "I'm just happy to be playing football. Sitting out a year and half . . . man, it hurts. I want to play the game. Things happen and you have to overcome adversity.
"I think it was a good move. I came over here to the Colts. They welcomed me with open arms and I'm just happy to be here playing football."