Tough Guy, Tough Assignment

Auburn, Ala.--There was a twinkle in the eyes of sophomore <b>Brandon Johnson</b> Thursday evening following the most fascinating day in his collegiate football life. <p>

The former Alma Bryant High School star says he was surprised but not disappointed when Auburn assistant coaches Eddie Gran and Joe Whitt asked him if he would like to take a shot at being a two-way player for the 2001 Tigers. Until pre-practice meetings with the coaches, Johnson says he had no clue that the move would be proposed.

"Linebacker is fun," Johnson says. "Fullback is fun. Both of them are high contact positions and I like the contact, I guess."

To ask his teammates and coaches, there is no "guessing" involved when making a statement that the 6-0, 231-pounder likes the contact aspect of the game. In fact, it is a given among those in the know that Johnson is the toughest Tiger. "Yeah, I think he is tough enough to play linebacker," Tommy Tuberville says with a grin. "I don't think you need to worry about Brandon."

The biggest concern for Johnson is learning his assignments with the first game a week from Saturday vs. Ball State. The sophomore says he plans to work overtime watching video and studying the playbook to make sure he learns as much as possible at the new position. Tuberville says that the plan is to break in Johnson slowly at the jack inside linebacker position behind Dontarrious Thomas.

Redshirt freshman Mayo Sowell will be sharing the second team reps with Johnson, who will continue to hold onto the No. 1 fullback job ahead of Michael Owens as well as play on special teams. With such a busy schedule, Johnson says his focus for the final week of preseason is to make sure he enters the season in great physical condition.

Among the reasons for the move is the injury situation. Karlos Dansby, who can also play the jack inside linebacker, returned to practice on Thursday, but is not full speed. He has missed almost the entire preseason with a knee sprain. He worked at whip on Thursday where the Tigers are also hurting with Roshard Gilyard trying to bounce back from a mild concussion suffered on Saturday.

Rashaud Walker can also play whip, but he has been recovering from an ankle problem and is not full speed himself. Junior Roderick Hood is another guy who can fill in at rover or whip, but he missed Thursday's practice after suffering from severe dehydration following Wednesday's demanding practice.

Another factor in the decision to give Johnson playing time at linebacker is that the NCAA Clearinghouse turned down the appeal of Parade All-American linebacker Lemarcus Rowell, who has been ruled ineligible. He was expected to provide depth at the position. He was at Thursday's practice, but was watching as a spectator. One more consideration in making the move is that Tavarreus Pounds, who can swing between the mike and jack spots, is the main backup in the middle behind Mark Brown with Phillip Pate unavailable while he recovers from knee surgery following a spring practice injury.

"I am just looking for more playing time however I can help the team, whatever I have to do," says Johnson, whose toughness and high school exploits as a linebacker/fullback are still discussed in the bayou country around Mobile Bay. "I am looking at it as a benefit for me. I am proud to be a part of the defense now. I just look at it as more playing time."


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