Young Tiger Linebacker Looking to Learn

His coach and a teammate note that one of Auburn's young defensive players has plenty of potential.

Auburn, Ala.--The week after receiving by far his most significant on the field action as a college football player, Auburn linebacker Merrill Johnson notes he is still a work in progress despite leading the Tigers in tackles last Saturday.

His position coach, Joe Whitt, agrees with that sentiment as does All-SEC senior Travis Williams.

"I just went out there and played my game and had fun," says Johnson, a redshirt freshman who had seven solo tackles and two assists while playing 29 snaps vs. Ball State.

"I still have a lot to learn," adds Johnson, who has gotten extra practice this week on assignments along with the other young linebackers who played last week--Chris Evans and Courtney Harden. "You have got to get better in everything you do," he says. "If you don't get better in practice you won't get better in the games."

Linebacker coach Whitt says that Johnson is a very talented player, but still a work in progress after spending the 2004 season as a redshirt and missing a significant part of preseason practice with a dislocated elbow.

"He needs to work on everything--all phases of it," Whitt says. "Anytime you see him do anything well it is exciting because he is a first-year guy and it is all in front of him. On a scale of one to 10, he is probably a two right now so there is a lot of room for him to improve.

"He did really well running to the football," Whitt says of Johnson's game vs. Ball State. "He has just got to get all of his assignments down. When you are a redshirt freshman there is so much to learn."

Merrill Johnson is expected to see more playing time this week as the Tigers face Western Kentucky, which is ranked number one in two Division I-AA polls.

A player who knows his assignments very well is All-SEC senior Travis Williams, who is expected back in the lineup this Saturday vs. Western Kentucky after missing last week's game with a turf toe injury.

Williams says that Johnson's future is promising. "Merrill is probably in our top five most athletic guys on the team," Williams says. "He has all of the tools to be great. He can jump high and can run like a deer. He has all of the tools a lot of guys pray for."

Johnson is playing with a large wrap on his arm to protect an injured elbow. In preseason he was making a tackle on tailback Kenny Irons and was hit from behind by safety Tony Bell, who was helping on the play.

The news on the medical front looks promising for Johnson. "I just went and got X-Rays (Tuesday) on it and the doc said that by looking at the X-Rays you can't even tell it was dislocated," Johnson says with a smile.

He will continue to wear his elbow wrap for protection for a couple of weeks, but says the painful problem is much better than it had been. He notes it was sore after the game last Saturday, but not a big problem.

Johnson, who played at a small high school (Choctaw County) in the small south Alabama town of Butler, notes that he is getting a kick out of playing in front of big crowds at Jordan-Hare Stadium. "That feels real good," he says.

The redshirt freshman, who backs up senior Antarrious Williams on the weakside, adds that he is trying to master all three linebacker positions in the Auburn's 4-3 alignment. "I pretty much know them all," he says. "Travis and the older guys have been helping me out a lot and making me better. I just want to improve as much as I can and help the team wherever they need me."

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories