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The waiting game
When it comes to football, Jeron Johnson is not used to waiting.
The rookie free agent safety for the Seahawks was a four-year starter at Boise State, leading the team in tackles the past three seasons. At Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif., Johnson was his league’s defensive MVP as a junior and senior.
But Thursday night, during the Seahawks preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego, Johnson had to wait his turn and didn’t enter the game until the third quarter. Rather than getting impatient, he got busy once on the field and picked up right where he left off in college and high school.
In the 24-17 victory, Johnson had two tackles, including one for a loss, and also broke up two passes – the second coming into the end zone on a fourth-and-3 play with less than a minute to play and the Chargers at the Seahawks’ 5-yard line.
Not a bad night’s work, especially when you consider it came in half-a-night – and the half the Seahawks dominated, outscoring the Chargers 24-7.
“Coming in and having to wait for your number to be called, it was a little difficult at first,” Johnson said in the locker room after the game. “But once I got in I had a ball.”
By making plays on the ball.
In the third quarter, just after the Seahawks had scored their first touchdown, Johnson broke up a third-down pass from No. 3 QB Scott Tolzien that was intended for tight end Kory Sperry. In the fourth quarter, the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Johnson made a good read of a running play and an even better reaction, darting through a gap to drop Isaac Odim for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-2 play.
Johnson’s biggest play, of course, was the one that iced the victory after the Chargers had driven from their own 30-yard line to the doorstep of the end zone.
“I felt I should have picked it at the end of the play,” Johnson said. “Because once I tipped it, I saw the receiver almost had a chance at it.”
Instead, neither wide receiver Travon Patterson nor Johnson ended up with the ball, but the Seahawks ended up with a victory.
“I’m not complaining about it,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a good situation. The coaches will get me in when they’re ready for me to be in. I’m playing behind some pretty good safeties and learning a lot from them.
“They’re young, as well, so I’m learning a lot from some guys my age.”
And the coaches are learning a lot about Johnson’s innate playing-making ability.
“Jeron is a very instinctive kid,” said Kris Richard, a former Seahawks cornerback who is now coaching the team’s defensive backs. “That’s the one thing that stood out about him is his intelligence level.”
Richard gives partial credit for Johnson’s gridiron education to his coaches at Boise State.
“They did a great job with him at Boise State,” he said. “He’s come in with a wealth of knowledge. Football is not new to him. Yes, the uniform has changed. But the game is still the same and he’s been able to hit the ground running.”
That football IQ is allowing Johnson to learn the free and strong safety spots, a necessity for whoever ends up being the backups on the 53-man roster for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the 49ers in San Francisco.
“He’s capable of playing both,” Richard said. “That’s where he’s showing true value.”
If Johnson continues to show as well as he did against the Chargers, he’ll get more – and longer – looks as the preseason progresses. And that would be just fine with him.
“I had fun tonight,” he said. “Tonight was just a little taste of it.”