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Making a name, and a place, for himself
Last summer, Jeron Johnson made enough plays during the preseason that the rookie free agent from Boise State earned himself a spot on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster.
This summer, he’s not only picking up where he left off, Johnson is making the kinds of plays that could get him a bigger role on a defense that ranked ninth in the NFL last season.
Like in Saturday night’s 30-10 victory over the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Johnson stepped in for Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor in the second quarter and made two big plays that led to a pair of field goals by Steven Hauschka.
Talk about a double dip of carpe diem.
“Jeron did great,” coach Pete Carroll said after the Seahawks had used another impressive defensive performance to push their preseason record to 2-0. “He had the big hit and the forced fumble. Then he gets the overthrow pick. That’s huge for two turnovers by a kid.
“He’s really improved from last year. He’s playing good ball for us and it’s exciting to see him in there.”
While Johnson isn’t about to unseat either Chancellor or Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, there is an important role for a third safety in the Seahawks’ big nickel that is up for grabs. Chancellor filled it two years ago as rookie. Veteran free-agent acquisition Atari Bigby played the role last season, but then signed with the San Diego Chargers in free agency this offseason.
That’s why Winston Guy was drafted in the sixth round. That’s why Johnson got such a long look with the No. 1 base defense and No. 1 big nickel on Saturday night. And Johnson responded with those look-at-me plays.
“We have some good guys at safety that we want to see,” Carroll said of going to Johnson so early. “We want to see Jeron. We want to see Winston Guy. So we thought this would be a good opportunity.”
And Johnson definitely took advantage of the situations as they presented themselves.
“I had an opportunity to get in early and just tried to make plays,” he said in the locker room, flashing a smile as bright as the light on the TV camera that was focused on him.
On the third play of the Broncos’ first possession in the second quarter, Johnson jarred the ball from 215-pound running back Lance Ball and linebacker Leroy Hill recovered the fumble at the Denver 46-yard line.
“I just tried to take care of my gap and the blocker kind of fell off of me,” Johnson said. “I hit the running back and when I tackled him my hand already was on the ball. I just stripped it out and the ball came loose.”
The play led to a 36-yard field goal by Hauschka.
The next time the Broncos got the ball, and again on their third play, Peyton Manning overthrew tight end Joel Dressen in the middle of the field and Johnson not only was there to make the interception he returned it 21 yards.
“We had great pressure and the underneath defender made him throw it over the top,” Johnson said. “So it came right to me.”
That play led to a 43-yard field goal by Hauschka – who wasn’t just with the Broncos at this time last year, he kicked the game-winner in overtime against the Seahawks in Week 3 of the preseason.
But Johnson wasn’t alone in making big – and meaningful – plays against the Broncos. Chancellor had a game-high six tackles in the first quarter. Linebacker K.J. Wright intercepted a Manning pass that was deflected by end Red Bryant. Cornerback Richard Sherman and nickel back Marcus Trufant each had four solo tackles, as did Johnson, to share game-high honors. Rookie defensive lineman Greg Scruggs had a second-half sack for the second consecutive game. First-round draft choice Bruce Irvin was able to generate more pressure than he had in the opener against the Tennessee Titans.
More good stuff from a defense that already was pretty good and looks to be getting even better.
“We’re playing pretty good defense right now,” said Johnson, who also was teammates with Sherman at Dominguez High School in Compton, Calif.
“We trying to pick up where we left off last year, and improve as well. We’ve still got a long ways to go, but we’re in a pretty good place right now.”
That assessment from Johnson also fits Johnson.