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’s made large strides this season to improve his play. However, the junior can’t help but think about what could have been in 2013.
“For me, it’s 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,” Johnson said. “I’ve been having fun doing it and I’m kind of taking over the role.”
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’t been easy for him to make the adjustment to Georgia’s defensive scheme.
“Coming in I felt like I was going to be a starter on the defense,” Johnson said. “I still feel that way. It’s just been difficult for me, adjusting with all the plays and stuff.”
While feeling challenged, Johnson remains optimistic about his role on the team as well as his coaching staff.
“The exciting part of this defense (is) having a defensive-minded coach like Coach (Todd) Grantham; every week we’re prepared,” Johnson said. “Coach (Chris) Wilson is also. Coach Wilson, he’s a good coach. I’ve gotten so much better since I’ve been here. A lot of people probably wouldn’t know that because I ain’t been playing, but I’ve got a lot better.”
Wilson in particular has played a pivotal role in Johnson’s progression this season. The new hire has helped Johnson in more ways than one.
“He’s been like that father figure to me. He don’t let me get away with it. I mean, a lot of stuff I used to get away with,” Johnson said. “He’s kind of been on me a lot, but like I said, he turned me into a man since I’ve been here and (I’ve) learned how to deal with things.”
Wilson has had a similar effect on a lot of Georgia’s defensive linemen.
“Wilson, he’s a guy that has no secrets,” defensive lineman Chris Mayes said. “He pushes you, says what’s 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.”
Wilson gets on everyone.
“You can’t hide,” Mayes said. “If you’re slow paced in drills, he’s going to call you out.”
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’s not the only one fighting for playing time.
“That’s been tough on me. I got guys that’s pretty much been doing their job,” Johnson said. “The times I got in I felt like I did my job, but I’ve just got to get better and do the little things. I know next year I’m going to have my chance and I’ve just got to take full advantage of it.”
While there’s one game left to be played this season, Johnson’s focus already lies on the upcoming offseason which will be crucial in determining his role in 2014.
“In the offseason he’s got to get stronger,” Mayes said. “He’s going to help me with my foot speed and stuff and I’m going to try to help him get stronger. We’re just going to help each other each and every day; just push each other. We’re both from JUCO so we can learn from each other.”
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’d like to get down into the 285-290 range. That’s just the first step in his plan for improvement.
“I know next year I’m going to have a chance to be a leader on this team,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. I mean, the season ain’t over yet, but I’m just trying to build upon what I’ve been doing lately.”