"I refer to him as the classic ‘dirty shirt' guy," Franchione continued. "Jarret is a guy that you can always count on to give you his best effort on every play. As a coach, you just love players like that."
Arriving on campus as a defensive end prospect, Johnson has played both inside and out during his first two seasons at Alabama. But this year the Florida native will be counted on to shore up the middle of the Bama D-Line. "I'll be a defensive tackle as long as I'm needed," Johnson stated. "So for now, yes, I am a defensive tackle--this year at least."
If that sounds like Johnson is just a tad nostalgic for his days as at defensive end, he has his reasons. "Tackles are very physical," Johnson explained. "You're getting hit from all sides. At end you get a little bit more of a rest, but at tackle you don't get the rest I used to have. When I'd be getting banged up, I used to be able to slide out to end and rest my legs a little bit and get some bruises healed.
"The biggest adjustment I've noticed is physically. Before I would play both tackle and end. But now it's just all tackle. Tackle all the time. It's been very physical for me, and I've got some bumps and bruises."
As a true freshman in 1999, Johnson was a key member of the defensive line that only seemed to get better as the team drove to the conference title. He earned an early reputation as an athlete whose ‘motor was always running,' and in fact Johnson was credited with Bama's only sack in the SEC championship victory over Florida. Then last season as a sophomore, the 281 pounder started every game, totaling 64 tackles and a team-high 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. For that season, he led the team with seven sacks and added 26 quarterback pressures.
This year he finds himself a key component of what some ‘experts' have tabbed one of the premier defensive fronts in the nation. "I'm not going to stand here and say we're the best in the country," Johnson said. "There are just so many good defensive lines out there. But with the playmakers we've got up front, we've definitely got the kids we need to make big plays in big ball games. I think that's why those people have rated us highly. We've got some kids that have made some plays. And I think we're playing that way right now."
During this morning's scrimmage the Tide offense showed up some better, but for much of Fall Camp the defense has consistently had the best of it. "For an end of two-a-days scrimmage, I thought (today) went pretty well," Johnson said. "Both sides--offense and defense--got after it like they're supposed to. There were some plays we missed that we should have made by our second D-Line."
Though Johnson clearly is up to the No. 1 job at left tackle, the starter at nose tackle still isn't clear. And the Tide coaches are working hard to develop some effective backups. "I think if we stay healthy then we can have enough depth for a rotation," Franchione said. "We like to rotate at least seven to eight guys--and maybe up to ten. That way, by the fourth quarter we're more prepared than the opposing offensive line. We think we can rotate the guys enough, but health will be a huge factor."
For his part, Johnson sees potential in the players around him. "I think we'll be fine--I really think so. We're moving some people around, and David Daniel (senior nose tackle) is picking it up. Anthony Bryant (sophomore nose tackle) is doing a good job, and Derek Sanders (junior left tackle) has stepped up in a lot of ways. We need (Sanders) to step up a little bit more, and I think we'll be fine."
Though the personnel groupings are not yet finalized, one thing that Johnson is absolutely certain about is that this year's unit will trot onto the field with a nasty disposition. "Absolutely this defensive line is going to play with an attitude. Always!" he stated. "We have a very aggressive defensive line. All of them have the ability to get a lot of sacks and hit the quarterback."
And that talent, combined with the aggressive coaching savvy of coordinator Carl Torbush, should produce some fireworks. "Coach Torbush has an awesome defense," Johnson said. "He believes in attacking. He's going to put us in a position to be able to make those plays and get those hits."