"With me, I am just trying to get better each and every day," he says. "Every practice I am just trying to get better and better at the little things. We don't know where we stand because the only two starters that we know will be Karibi (Dede) and Kevin (Sears), but I know I have got to step up and do what I have got to do."
He adds, however, that he believes he is accomplishing his goal so far during the early days of the Tigers' preparations for the Capital One Bowl. "It has been a whole lot better," he explains about how bowl practice has been going. "I have learned so much from A.T. (Antarrious Williams) and Trav (Travis Williams) and Dede, all the older guys. I am just learning so much from them everyday that now everything is just coming together."
Along with working hard to get as many last minute lessons in from the graduating seniors as possible, Johnson says that he and his fellow underclassmen are also competing for the spots that will open up in the playing rotation next season.
"We are definitely in competition, but we are going to work with each other, and try and get better everyday," he says.
For Johnson that means battling for the will (weakside) linebacker spot that will be vacated by Antarrious Williams along with redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon, and possibly even Dede, who has seen action at that position in the past.
Johnson adds that Chris Evans and Mark Pickett will be battling for the mike (middle) linebacker position, again along with Dede, who can play all three positions, and Courtney Harden and Patrick Trahan, a converted safety, will battle with Kevin Sears for the Sam (strongside) linebacker position.
Merrill Johnson lays a lick on an Ole Miss ball carrier earlier in the season.
The 6-1 linebacker, who notes that he probably weighs around 200 pounds, says that currently he only has one goal for the 2006 season. "Yeah, that is my goal, to be a starter next year."
The biggest thing that Johnson says he believes he needs to improve on if he is going to accomplish his goal is to get rid of an old habit.
"I have got to get rid of...I have got this little hop that I do and coach says I have got to get rid of that," he explains. "Yeah, I do a pre-snap hop and he says I have got to stop that. I don't know what it comes from. I guess it is just a habit. I see it on film, but when I am out there I don't know that I am doing it."
He adds, however, that he is not quite sure exactly why the hop is such a big problem. "I don't know," he says about what problems it causes. "He just says I don't need to do it."