Antonio Johnson looks nearly the same whether running in coverage or walking off the field towards the locker room: smooth and effortless. The Jaguars' rookie safety runs fast, jumps high, reaches even higher, walks tall like he was made for this and owns all the physical and mental traits general managers want in today's NFL. Senior Correspondent Brian Sexton tracked him down after an especially long day on the practice field and talked about his rise from East St. Louis High School in Illinois to the NFL.
Question: What's the learning curve been like from Texas A&M to the National Football League?
Answer: It has been a blur at times, but it has been good. I'm excited to be here. I'm dialing in on all the little things, just like taking care of your body and being on top of the playbook. I feel like those are the main two things that are the biggest difference from college and to the NFL. I also have the ability to spend all my time on just football and not school, and that's another big difference because you have to be with all these guys competing. The coaches talk all the time about being a professional. Thankfully, I feel like the guys at A&M helped get me ready for this.
Q: How did Texas A&M prepare you for what you would see on the field?
A: When you're playing in the SEC, you're going against top athletes on the practice field and obviously on Saturdays. Plus, there was legitimate talent at every level: On the line, in the secondary. You have great speed, great size, so it kind of compares to out here. Everybody out here is elite. Also: Just being around great coaches who cared about me and wanted me to be my best … they helped me prepare just like being able to watch film and being able to understand the opposing offense and anticipate what's going on.
Q: You played for the East St. Louis Flyers, then Texas A&M and now the NFL. You've grown up around big-time football your whole life. How do you think that helps you?
A: A lot. I've competed against the best my whole life, so I don't get flustered in hostile situations or when things go wrong. It helps me keep my poise and stay calm, which lets me play fast and at my best all the time. Then you're talking about elite-level athletes, and they can embarrass you if you're not good enough or you're not working hard enough. That's something I learned early and everywhere I've been. I've always felt like I belonged, which is an advantage that not everyone gets.
Q: This heat and humidity is no joke, is it? Even though you played in Texas, and it gets hot in St. Louis, this is a different level, isn't it?
A: For sure. The humidity here is crazy. Most people don't realize how hot it gets in St. Louis in the summer. Those were some of the hottest days and hardest practices I ever had. Then, being in Texas, where you know it's going to be really hot, you kind of get used to it. But it doesn't really compare, at least not to me, with what it's like here. This is crazy and it keeps me on top of those little things that get me back on the field the next day.
Q: What does it take you on a daily basis when you leave the field? What do you do before you come out on the field?
A: Before I come out on the field, I stretch and get in a hot tub, just loosen to my muscles. Then when I get on the field, I do a little band workout, just try to get my glutes and my legs activated. Then after practice, depending on the day, I do a little rehab, like get stretched out or cupping or whatever that may be. And then really just make sure I'm on top of my playbook and the rest of the day chill.
Q: I know these coaches and trainers make a big deal about sleep for you guys. What have you learned so far that's making you ready to go the next day?
A: To be honest, right now we have a curfew: 10:30. After that, it is pretty much lights out. Most of the time, I'm already asleep before time anyway. Training camp is a long day. We have meetings and practice and more meetings and a walk-through and more meetings, so you're going to be tired anyway and then drained from the heat and just being at practice all day. Sleep is important and I look forward to it at the end of these days.
Q: What are your impressions of this defense so far?
A: The camaraderie of the defense stands out. Everyone wants to be great and do their part, so they don't let their brothers down. There is a respect for each other, and what they do as their part of the puzzle to make plays. I was surprised by how young the defense is. We have a very young team and you know how well they just mesh and they just play for each other. It's like a brotherhood, for real.
Q: When you come into the NFL, your family comes along for the ride. Are they enjoying it? How are you sharing it with them? What has it been like for the family?
A: They are really enjoying it. It has been a childhood dream of mine and just for them to see their son, their brother, their nephew be able to accomplish their goals and dreams, they love it. They're happy for me, but also like it's for them, too. They put a lot of sacrifices into me for me to get to this point. It's too busy right now to spend too much time, but we talk and when the season gets going, I'm looking forward to sharing everything I can with them.
Q: This seems like a pretty good situation for a young player to step into with the head coach, the quarterback, the facilities and the team they've built. Are you aware of what they did here last year and what the expectations are for this season? A: They did a great job last year. It was a tough loss for them at the end in Kansas City. We're planning on carrying that chip on our shoulder. We feel like we can go out and compete and win every week and that includes the Super Bowl and that's how we work. If you look at our practice, everybody works hard and [Head Coach] Doug [Pederson] always tells us that practice shouldn't be any different than Super Bowl. So when you get there, it's no difference. Just play your game. So, I feel like that's how we practice, that's how we attack practice and that's what gives us a chance to have a special season.