Colts DE Curtis Johnson Working Into Defensive Line Rotation
INDIANAPOLIS – He got bigger and stronger, but Curtis Johnson said those weren't necessarily his main offseason goals.
Johnson, a second-year defensive end, said recently his main focus this past offseason had as much to do with the mental and psychological as it did physical.
He wants this season to show he can play at a high level, and that means honing off-field skills as much as on-field.
"I just really wanted to come back more focused and more prepared – and a lot stronger and quicker," Johnson said during the Colts' recent offseason conditioning program at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
Johnson, who signed with the Colts as a free agent shortly after the 2008 NFL Draft, made the roster out of preseason last year, and while he played sparingly on defense, he finished the season with one sack and five tackles.
Then came the offseason, which meant doing whatever possible to improve.
And for Johnson, he said part of that did mean adding weight, and after playing last season around 237 pounds he said he spent the offseason around 252, adding the extra size without sacrificing the speed and quickness that is vital in the Colts' scheme.
"They pretty much have a set weight they'd like to see me at," Johnson said, "just keep the good weight on and keep off the bad weight."
Johnson, who played collegiately at Clark Atlanta University, enters training camp as one of five true defensive ends on the roster, with Pro Bowl ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, eight-year veteran Raheem Brock and second-year veteran Marcus Howard the others.
Of that group, Johnson is the only one who entered the NFL without being drafted.
And while on some rosters, undrafted status could make it more difficult to work into the lineup, Johnson said he need look no further than a few positions over on the line to know that's the not the case with Indianapolis.
The Colts have a reputation in the NFL for providing free-agent rookies an opunity, and for having such players play key roles. Linebacker Gary Brackett, safety Melvin Bullitt and running back Dominic Rhodes all have contributed significantly for the Colts in recent seasons after joining the Colts as undrafted free agents, with Brackett and Rhodes key members of the Colts' Super Bowl XLI champions following the 2006 season.
Last season, rookie Eric Foster started eleven games at defensive tackle after going undrafted.
"I took the back roads coming into the NFL, but everybody meets up and finds their destiny in the same place," Johnson said. "I always thought I could perform with the guys who played every Saturday coming into the NFL, so I felt all I had to do was come out here and prove myself.
"A lot of free agents made the team and performed. Eric Foster made the team and did a great job at defensive tackle last year, so you can't just say because you're a free agent that you're not going to get playing time. He's a great example that if you put some hard work in, you can get some."
When Johnson's work did yield the benefit of playing time last season, he said he saw enough to see a difference between the NFL and college. It wasn't a mammoth difference, but it was significant.
"The only thing different I really saw in the transition is the speed of the game is just so much faster," Johnson said. "Not only the speed, but mentally understanding all the film work and study time – you have to be prepared. Once you understand what's going on, it makes your job a lot easier, because you don't have to worry about what you're assignment, what you're technique is.
"You just go out there and play. When you can go out and play, that's when you're at your best."
And Johnson said although he didn't play as much as he might have liked as a rookie, he said he played enough to prove to himself he could play at the NFL level.
"To show myself I was right? Yes. I played enough last year," he said. "To show everybody else what I can really do? No. I don't think I played enough last year, so hopefully, I can contribute any way I can this year – go out and perform on special teams and just when coach needs me go in and not let the defense down.
"That's the biggest part – just do your job."