Gary Johnson gets right to the point. He isn’t one to hide his feelings.
For immediate proof, just check out the Texas linebacker’s Twitter handle, which leaves nothing at all to the imagination: “I Hate QBs & RBs.”
For further proof, take a look at Johnson’s highlight reel.
“My favorite part is hitting running backs and sacking the quarterback,’’ Johnson said. “I love that . . . something that I really love doing.’’
Johnson did it with regularity during a two-year run with the Longhorns, piling up 150 tackles, including 22.5 for losses, and 8.5 sacks. He led Texas this past season with 90 tackles, 16.5 for losses, and 6.5 sacks.
Though he lacks ideal NFL measurables for the position, the 6-foot, 226-pound Johnson makes up for it with above-average instincts and blazing speed. He’s also one of the most violent tacklers in this draft class, regardless of position.
Johnson had the benefit of playing behind a stout Texas front wall, which was effective at moving bodies and creating space for the linebacker to find the ball. He credited the big guys up front for allowing him to make so many tackles, particularly the ones behind the line of scrimmage.
“My defensive front made it possible for me to run through gaps. Charles Omenihu, Chris Nelson, [Gerald] Wilbon, [Ta’Quon] Graham, I can go on and on,’’ said Johnson. “Those guys took on double-teams for me so I could see. I have a nose for the ball and taking up gaps, so shutting things off allows me to get free and make plays in the backfield.’’
Johnson arrived in Austin after a successful run at Dodge City Community College in Kansas. He was set to enroll at Alabama. It was Johnson’s dream to play for the Tide after being a three-sport standout at Douglas High, just two hours north of Tuscaloosa.
“It was a huge step in my life,” he said. “I committed to those guys coming out of junior college. That was my dream school coming out of high school. The winning tradition and the linebackers that they put in the NFL, C.J. Mosley, [Courtney] Upshaw, guys like that. Why wouldn’t you want to go there and follow in their footsteps?”
Unfortunately, Johnson had taken an online math course, which is against Southeastern Conference rules. He could have taken another course but felt it would have put him too far behind to learn the Tide’s playbook and scheme, so he decided to go to Texas.
“Things happen for a reason,’’ he said. “Maybe they would have gone differently, but I don’t regret it.’’
Johnson is well aware that some scouts have questions about his perceived lack of size and whether he could withstand the rigors of the NFL. He believes his body of work is ample proof that his body is up for the challenge.
“For me, people talk about my size,’’ he said. “They said I am not big enough to be able to fight off blocks. But in today’s game, there are smaller linebackers, so I feel I’d be capable to play in today’s game.’’
Johnson is just a hair shorter than linebacker Roquan Smith, who was taken with the eighth overall pick last season and thrived as a rookie with the Bears.
He also clocked a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, which was better than three linebackers taken in the first round last year, including Smith, the Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch, and Tremaine Edmunds of the Bills.
Johnson figures to be a Day 3 pick in this week’s draft, and does have the instincts, skill, and versatility that could make him attractive to the Patriots, who have multiple late-round picks.
In New England’s scheme, the linebackers have multiple duties, including filling running lanes, pressuring off the edge, and dropping into coverage. Johnson has shown that he can handle all those chores.
Johnson said he models his game after Derrick Johnson, another hit-and-run linebacker and Longhorn alum.
“I look up to him,’’ he said. “I try to play just like him. I chat with him a lot and try to take things and put them in my game. Fighting off blocks, being relentless to the ball, and just having a nose for the ball. I try to make as many tackles as possible, just like he did.’’
The top linebackers in the draft
Best of the rest: OLB Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State, (6-2, 242, 4.98); OLB Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State (6-2, 240, 4.57); OLB Chase Winovich, Michigan (6-3, 256, 4.59); ILB Te’Von Coney, Notre Dame (6-0, 244, 4.72); ILB Dru Tranquill, Notre Dame (6-2, 234, 4.57); OLB Gary Johnson, Texas (6-0, 226, 4.43); ILB Dakota Allen, Texas Tech (6-1, 232, 4.77); OLB Ben Banogu, TCU (6-3, 250, 4.62); Zach Allen, Boston College (6-4, 281, 4.80).