Prospect Preview: AJ Johnson ILB Tennessee

By Draft Lead Philip Arnold @PhilipArnold20

Omarius Hines/ AP

AJ Johnson ILB Tennessee

6-2 243 lbs. Junior.

138 Tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBU. Second Team All-SEC selection in 2012. Started 12 games in 2012 and has 22 career starts. Led SEC in tackles during 2012 while finishing fourth in the nation. Led the Volunteers in TFLs. 

Game Notes vs. Florida 11 Tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QBH

  • Tennessee is multiple in their defensive fronts. mainly 3-4 and 4-2-5 defenses. Johnson lines up as the mike in this game. Johnsons’ strength and speed are what stood out in the Florida game.

    AJ Johnson Missed gap assignment

    Florida will run a fake end around into a dive. The tackle will be responsible for Johnson, while the pulling Tight End will come for the unblocked Defensive End. Johnson attempts to go underneath the blocker, to where his help is (Defensive End), and the ball hits right into his gap.

  • Against the run: Johnson has quick hands against lead blockers. He is quick at giving a hand swat and getting past the potential blocker. In junk in the middle he is best at using his hands to swipe blockers off him and finding the ball. He does have a tendency to be high when taking blockers head on and losing leverage. This is because his feet are not under his base. One thing that wasn’t good with Johnson was how he tries to go under blockers. One play resulted in a big gain (right) because he wanted to go under the block, instead of filling his hole and making the ball carrier bounce it out or in.
  • Coverage skills: One thing Johnson does well in his pass drops are flipping his hips quickly and finding a man in his zone. He has good awareness to see underneath routes coming and breaks quickly on them. He needs to get a bit lower in his drops and gain more quicker depth in his drops. At times he can be caught hopping around and having a slow backpedal.
  • Pursuit/Tackling: In the open field Johnson can do a better job at coming to balance for tackles. He plays at a very fast rate and doesn’t come to control and balance in the open field (right). In the box Johnson is a good scrapper and tackler. There were a few times Johnson thought the play was going to be over and got caught jogging.

    Aj Johnson Cutback

    Johnson is pursuing from the middle on an outside run. He has help from his Cornerback coming up on his outside. He is out of control and unbalanced (should be on the carriers hip), allowing a cutback lane for the Running back to gain an extra few yards.

  • Play that stood out: 3 Down and 1, Tennessee is trailing by seven in the fourth quarter. Florida lines up in a trips set with the running back offset to the trips. Tennessee is a man defense and Johnson is coming off the edge on a blitz. The thing is though if the running back runs a flare route Johnson is responsible for that route. Florida runs a designed tailback flare screen. Johnson does a perfect job coming into his blitz, recognizing the flare route, peeling, flipping his hips and  eating the intended receiver in the backfield.

    AJ Johnson Peel

    In this image, Florida runs a designed RB screen route. Johnson is coming on an edge pressure in a man to man defense. He does a great job peeling off his blitz, rotating his hips and making a huge stop for the Tennessee defense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game Notes vs. Mississippi State 21 Tackles, 1.5 TFL,

 

  • Once again lined up as the Mike linebacker. The guards of Mississippi State, Gabe Jackson and Tobias Smith, manhandled him all game.
  • Against the run: Almost every time Johnson went to fill the hole and take on a lead blocker he was getting pushed back 2 to 3 yards. When watching this, you notice his base is way to high and he stops his feet every time! When he runs his feet he does fine a job taking on blockers (will be shown in play that stood out), when his feet stop at the point of attack, he gets blown out of his gap.
  • Coverage Skills: Once again in zone drops Johnson is slow into his drops and hops around. One play he didn’t get any depth and the pass hit right over his head for a touchdown. It was also noted that Johnson rounded his break in a man coverage turn.
  • Pursuit/Tackling: Didn’t have any complaints on his tackling or pursuit in this game. Like the Florida game, in the box Johnson is a great tackler. Didn’t get to see much open field tackling in this game.
  • Play that stood out: 1 Down and 10. Mississippi State runs a basic trap play. Like it was stated earlier in this article, when Johnson has his base right and runs his feet at the point of attack, he is strong and hard to stop. On this play he does it very nicely. Johnson sees a down block from his guard and replaces into his gap. He sees the pulling guard coming and has a nice low knee bend and base. He does a much better job running his feet at contact, punching and extending his arms into the blocker, pushing him back into the running back. The running back then has to try to make a move and Johnson and another teammate are right there to make a play in the backfield.

What he does well

When Johnson takes on a lead blocker he is good at hand fighting to get off. He has shown a quick hand slap and continues moving to his target quickly around the defender. In junk Johnson does a good job of using his hands to feel out blockers and finding the ball carrier. When Johnson knows he has a speed advantage around a blocker he does a good job at beating them to where the blocker wants to go. Inside the tackles, Johnson is a great tackler and does a good job securing tackles and wrapping up.

What he needs to improve

Johnson really needs to improve his footwork at the point of attack. There are too many times Johnson has stopped his feet when taking on blockers and causing him to get pushed too far down field and out of range to make a play. Johnson does play at a very high rate, but it can hurt him in the open field. He needs to show better body control in tackling and in coverage.

Top Matchups

9/14 at Oregon

9/21 at Florida

10/5 vs. Georgia

10/26 at Alabama

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