Johns Picking Up New Assignment

Jimmy Johns is going to make some mistakes as he learns a new position in his final season at Alabama. The former tailback began working at linebacker prior to the Independence Bowl game and has now had four practices in the spring.

Following Alabama's first practice in pads Monday, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban said that when Jimmy Johns made mistakes Saban expected Johns to learn from them.

Alabama had its second workout in full gear Wednesday, a practice that the players felt was a very good one. Returning all-star center Antoine Caldwell gets a good look at Johns, who is working at the weakside linebacker spot (the inside position that was manned by Darren Mustin last year).

"Jimmy only knows one speed," Caldwell said. "Full speed. He's smart on the football field and doing a good job."

Alabama will have its first scrimmage of spring practice Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That means one change.

"We haven't been able to tackle," Johns said. "We're just wrapping the guy (ball carrier) up and then releasing. But on Saturday we'll tackle."

Returning starting safety Rashad Johnson indicated that Johns may have gotten a little head start on the tackling part.

"You have to tell him to calm down," Johnson said. "Coach doesn't like to see guys getting knocked to the ground in practice."

Johnson also said that Johns "has a lot of instincts. Once he gets the plays down, he's going to be fine."

Johns thinks he is going to learn from his mistakes. He also thinks it's best to make mistakes going full speed.

"I'm going full speed now, but I'm not always in the right position. If you make too many mistakes, someone will have your job," he said.

Johns' story is well known among Alabama football fans. He was Mr. Football in Mississippi as a quarterback, then was shifted to tailback as a freshman for the Tide in 2005. He also got some work on special teams, and was noted for his ferocious coverage on kickoffs. That may have led to his move to linebacker going into his senior season, and Saban indicated that some of Johns' special teams work could translate into good linebacker technique.

One thing that Johns has done since moving to linebacker is bulk up a little. Last year he played at between 225 and 230 pounds. Today he's at 248 on his 6-2 frame.

Johns acknowledges that as he battles for a new position going into his senior season, "It's now or never. I'm in a position to move along. I have to make the right decisions. I have to take it like I'm growing up. Every day I get older and learn more. It's a critical position, so I have to do the best I can."

"I feel a lot of pressure, but that's a good thing. That's when character comes out."

Johns said, "The big change is that I've never been on defense. I've always been on offense and been offense-minded. But I think I'm picking it up. I love it. I can really just be me, fly around and have fun."

Johns said he is working with the first unit with Charles Higgenbotham, Cory Reamer and Jennings Hester among those also practicing there. "The position is wide open," Johns said.

"I'm glad Coach Saban and I made the decision for me to move before the bowl game," he said. "I got 15 practices at linebacker with Darren Mustin helping me learn."

One of the men helping the senior now is upcoming sophomore middle linebacker Rolando McClain. McClain started much of last season as a true freshman. "He's not a freshman," Johns said. "He plays like a veteran. He's a great linebacker and a great teacher. He works hard and I look up to him."

Johns said he was also doing extra work watching tape and in the linebacker classroom to learn his assignments.

Johns is looking forward to Saturday's scrimmage.

"Hopefully, it will be good," he said. "We'll have a lot of plays and have a lot of fun. I'll be able to see what it's all about."

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