James Johnson emerges from ‘under the radar’

Posted Apr 2, 2014

In 2012, James Johnson injured his wrist so severely that he retired from the game. But Wednesday, the former UW wide receiver participated in the Huskies’ Pro Day looking to restart his once-promising career.

The NFL came to the University of Washington on Wednesday for the Huskies’ Pro Day.

Scouts from at least 19 teams were on hand, including a large contingent from the Seahawks that included general manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive assistants Sherman Smith, Kippy Brown, Pat McPherson, Carl Smith, Dave Canales and Nate Carroll.

They watched Keith Price throw the ball after the Huskies’ quarterback was somehow not invited to NFL Scouting Combine in February. They got to see running back Bishop Sankey highlight his hands rather than his feet. But they also were witness to James Johnson emerging from what the former UW wide receiver labeled “under the radar” after a trio of surgeries to repair ligament damage in his right wrist cost Johnson the past two seasons.

Price displaying arm strength as well as touch and Sankey catching everything thrown his way were expected. What Johnson was able to showcase allowed him to emerge from his out-of-sight, out-of-mind status in explosive fashion.

His session at Dempsey Indoor began with Johnson popping a 36½-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 8-inch board jump. Before he was finished, Johnson had caught the ball well. After he was done, it was smiles all around.

“Definitely,” Johnson said when asked if he was pleased with his performance. “My main thing is coming out here and proving that, No. 1, I can catch the ball well still, I can run and I can compete at the highest level.

“That’s what today was all about for me. I had a lot of fun today.”

And Wednesday was more important for Johnson than it was for Sankey, Price and even Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end who remains sidelined following surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot that was detected during his combine physical. That’s because Johnson last played in 2011, and he actually announced his retirement from the sport last May.

“After being out for a year or so and having so many surgeries and having to rehab for a while, it takes a toll on a person,” Johnson said. “But I was able to really come within myself, realize and understand that, ‘Hey, this is what I do. I was born to do this.’ I worked really hard at rehabbing and I’m back to 150 percent.”

Before the wrist injury, Johnson caught 39 passes as a true freshman in 2009 – including the first touchdown of the Steve Sarkisian era in the opener against LSU. He caught only one pass in 2010, but had 38 receptions and four TD catches in 2011. Then came the wrist injury in the 2012 fall camp that lingered longer than anyone anticipated. Johnson had dislocated a bone and tore all the ligaments, damage that required the three surgeries in an eight-month span.

“Everybody knows that broken bones heal faster than ligaments,” Johnson said. “So it was just a long process. But I’m healthy now and I’m ready to give this thing a go. It was a tough deal. But I’m back. I’m going to keep saying that over and over again because, like I said, I’m ready to go.

“I’ve been under the radar for a while. Not a lot of people even knew that I was doing the Pro Day in the first place. So this is a big opportunity for me. I really firmly believe that I can play at the highest level and I believe I came out here today and proved that I deserve an opportunity on that level. And I believe that it’s going to happen.”

Johnson’s efforts made a believer of Price.

“I thought he was explosive. I thought he was good in and out of his breaks and he showed that he can catch the ball – especially coming off the wrist injury,” the QB said. “He has very natural hands, he’s a natural route runner and I thought he did well today.”   

Also working out were kicker Travis Coons, defensive backs Greg Ducre, Sean Parker and Tre Watson, linebackers Princeton Fuimaono and Thomas Tutogi, defensive lineman Sione Potoa’e, running back Antavius Sims, wide receiver Kevin Sims and two former Huskies – fullback Dorson Boyce, who went to training camp with the Seahawks in 2011; and fullback Jonathan Amosa, who scored a touchdown in a preseason game against the Seahawks last summer while playing for the Green Bay Packers.

Seferian-Jenkins liked what he saw from all his former teammates.

“They killed it,” he said when asked to assess their performances. “What do you think? I think they killed it. I think they killed it for the most part. I think Keith threw the ball extremely well. I think Kevin Smith showed his energy and enthusiasm and caught the ball well. Bishop Sankey, all the other guys, they did a great job today. Sean Parker, too.”

And then there was Johnson.

“When he’s healthy, he’s a great receiver,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “I was not surprised by what James did today.”