In between Alabama practice sessions Wednesday -- the first of five two-a-day workouts for the Crimson Tide -- junior Jimmy Johns talked about his work at fullback. A day earlier Coach Nick Saban had said Johns was working at both positions, and noted that the 6-3, 230-pound Johns "is a hard match-up" for defenders.
Over the past couple of seasons, Johns has not been receptive to a move to linebacker. But fullback was a different proposition. In fact, it wasn't really a proposal, to hear Johns tell it. Asked how Coach Saban approached him, Johns said, "I'm a winner and I know Coach Saban is a winner. There was no doubt I would be willing to do this."
He added, "There was no choice, either. But I looked at it as an opportunity."
Johns said, "It's a different position. I'm trying to learn the different things about it to help me be involved in the offensive schemes. I just want to win. That's all I've ever wanted to do. I'm all about winning."
Saban had noted that Johns as a fullback would be used much like Bill Walsh used the fullback for the San Francisco 49ers, catching a lot of short passes. And, Saban noted, Johns has the ability to run after catching the ball. And, the coach added, "He has some size so he might be difficult for smaller people to tackle."
One thing Johns has found about the position is "There is a lot of blocking. I like the contact. I like it a lot. It's an opportunity to hit people, and that's something I like doing and take pride in." He pointed out that he has been a hitter as a member of Alabama special teams units the past two season.
He was Alabama's second-leading rusher last year with 66 carries for 293 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with a touchdown and and a long run of 26 yards. He also had one pass reception for 16 yards.
Thus far his most memorable play came on special teams. As a freshman playing against his homestate Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Brookhaven, Miss., native caused a fumble on kickoff coverage, a ball that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Matt Miller. That play ignited the Tide to a 17-0 win in Starkville. As a freshman he rushed 38 times for 202 yards, a 5.3 yards per carry average.
Johns said he first began getting a little work at fullback last spring. "I was under the radar," he said.
Although Johns was named winner of the Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice Award last spring, he was absent for awhile because of academic deficiencies. "That was an eye-opener, something to learn from," he said. "I paid my penalty and we've moved past that. I'm looking forward, trying to get in better condition, trying to learn my assignments. I look forward to staying on track and doing things the right way."
Last year was also marred by a hand injury. He had surgery in January and said his hand is now fine. "I can grip a football, I can turn a doorknob," he said. And does his coach know he can throw a football? "I hope so," Johns said.
But as a fullback, Johns can be expected to be a pass-catcher more than thrower. Johns said he looks forward to getting out on some routes and playing in "open spaces. I look at it as an opportunity, a gift."
Johns said he would keep his hand in tailback work as a power back. He said that fellow Mississippian Terry Grant of Lumberton is "really doing well" as the number one tailback. "He's learning, he works hard, and he's one of the fastest we've got," Johns said.
Johns said there are a number of positions where big shoes have to be filled. "Everything is picking up," he said. "Everything is moving fast. We're having fun."