After a disappointing season, Toby Johnson is already taking steps toward being a leader on defense next year.
Lingering effects from a knee surgery have plagued the defensive end from the day he signed with Georgia, but Johnson said he feels he‚Äôs made large strides this season to improve his play. However, the junior can‚Äôt help but think about what could have been in 2013.
‚ÄúFor me, it‚Äôs been kind of like a letdown, but for the most part I think the second part of the season I was coming along and doing my job,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been having fun doing it and I‚Äôm kind of taking over the role.‚Äù
In his first season at Georgia the Hutchinson Community College transfer played in 10 games and logged seven total tackles with 1.5 of those being tackles for a loss of four yards. It may look like Johnson has suffered from a lack of production, but it hasn‚Äôt been easy for him to make the adjustment to Georgia‚Äôs defensive scheme.
‚ÄúComing in I felt like I was going to be a starter on the defense,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúI still feel that way. It‚Äôs just been difficult for me, adjusting with all the plays and stuff.‚Äù
While feeling challenged, Johnson remains optimistic about his role on the team as well as his coaching staff.
‚ÄúThe exciting part of this defense (is) having a defensive-minded coach like Coach (Todd) Grantham; every week we‚Äôre prepared,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúCoach (Chris) Wilson is also. Coach Wilson, he‚Äôs a good coach. I‚Äôve gotten so much better since I‚Äôve been here. A lot of people probably wouldn‚Äôt know that because I ain‚Äôt been playing, but I‚Äôve got a lot better.‚Äù
Wilson in particular has played a pivotal role in Johnson‚Äôs progression this season. The new hire has helped Johnson in more ways than one.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been like that father figure to me. He don‚Äôt let me get away with it. I mean, a lot of stuff I used to get away with,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs kind of been on me a lot, but like I said, he turned me into a man since I‚Äôve been here and (I‚Äôve) learned how to deal with things.‚Äù
Wilson has had a similar effect on a lot of Georgia‚Äôs defensive linemen.
‚ÄúWilson, he‚Äôs a guy that has no secrets,‚Äù defensive lineman Chris Mayes said. ‚ÄúHe pushes you, says what‚Äôs on his mind (and) tells you what you need to hear just to make you better; not to put you down or anything, just to make you better.‚Äù
Wilson gets on everyone.
‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt hide,‚Äù Mayes said. ‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre slow paced in drills, he‚Äôs going to call you out.‚Äù
Along with the challenges of learning a new system at Georgia, Johnson has also lost out on some time due to an onslaught of competition at his position. He‚Äôs not the only one fighting for playing time.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs been tough on me. I got guys that‚Äôs pretty much been doing their job,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúThe times I got in I felt like I did my job, but I‚Äôve just got to get better and do the little things. I know next year I‚Äôm going to have my chance and I‚Äôve just got to take full advantage of it.‚Äù
While there‚Äôs one game left to be played this season, Johnson‚Äôs focus already lies on the upcoming offseason which will be crucial in determining his role in 2014.
‚ÄúIn the offseason he‚Äôs got to get stronger,‚Äù Mayes said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs going to help me with my foot speed and stuff and I‚Äôm going to try to help him get stronger. We‚Äôre just going to help each other each and every day; just push each other. We‚Äôre both from JUCO so we can learn from each other.‚Äù
The first area Johnson plans to change is his weight. While the 6-foot-4 defensive end plays at a weight of around 312 pounds now, he‚Äôd like to get down into the 285-290 range. That‚Äôs just the first step in his plan for improvement.
‚ÄúI know next year I‚Äôm going to have a chance to be a leader on this team,‚Äù Johnson said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what we‚Äôre trying to do. I mean, the season ain‚Äôt over yet, but I‚Äôm just trying to build upon what I‚Äôve been doing lately.‚Äù