One of the best all-around athletes in Coach Tommy Tuberville's program, Johnson is a potential difference-maker in 2002. However, in order for that to happen he will have to avoid the nagging injuries that kept his sophomore year from being the kind of season that Johnson expected.
Johnson battled through injuries to his leg and ribs to start nine games and play in all 12. He had solid numbers with 48 total tackles with four tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. However, he was credited with just half a quarterback sack and didn't make nearly as many big plays as he would have liked.
In an interview with Inside the Auburn Tigers on a warm summer morning after leaving the medical training room where he was undergoing some preventative maintenance following a weight training workout, Johnson says staying healthy is his first priority. "I really want to be 100 percent going into the season," he says. "I don't want any excuses. I don't want anybody saying, ‘He was hurt, he wasn't 100 percent.' I really want to go in, play my hardest, and be the best and show everybody that I'm a good athlete and that I can really play."
The six-foot-three-inch true junior from Silas, Ala., is working out virtually everyday this summer. He is projected to be a starter for defensive line coach Don Dunn, who says that he is excited about Johnson's opportunity to have a big season. "We are expecting big things from Spencer," Dunn says. "He is a hard-working player with a lot of talent. It was a frustrating season for him last year with the injury problems that limited what he could do in games and practice."
Hard work has been a theme around the Auburn football program this summer and that excites Johnson. "We are all working hard," he says. "Everybody's anxious for the season to come around and everybody's feeling good about the new coordinators coming in. The freshmen are coming in and working out with us and they're very confident. They look pretty good. We all are working hard to make sure we don't have another season like we did last year."
Johnson says he is concentrating on improving his defensive line technique this summer as well as his strength. "I am really working on everything," he notes. "We all have room for improvement. I am also trying to be a better leader for the team."
Spencer Johnson was a standout linebacker in high school as well as an All-State basketball player.
The junior says the twice-a-week sessions he spends with the other defensive tackles and ends has been productive with the older players showing the younger players what they need to do to be a success in college. "It gives us a chance to bond, too, as a defensive line," Johnson notes. "The younger guys, you know, they're coming in and they are very studious. They listen to us and they look up to us. I think that's very important for us to bond together for the season for us to be a great defensive line."
Tuberville and Dunn both say they are expecting Johnson to have his best season. Johnson agrees with his coaches. "I grew up a whole lot from my freshman to my sophomore year until now. I know that I have a bigger role to play on the team now. Being older, I have to be a leader and I have to improve my play. I really think this is going to be a great year for me as well as the team."
Last year, the defensive front didn't produce a consistent pass rush. As a team, the Tigers had just 16 quarterback sacks while opponents sacked Auburn quarterbacks 30 times. It didn't help that Johnson was seldom full speed and fellow defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil played at far less than full speed with injuries, too. Backup Dexter Murphy was also injured. Dunn hopes those three, along with redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens and senior Dante Booker, will give the Tigers a quality two-deep to three-deep rotation at the two interior defensive line spots.
"Getting pressure on quarterbacks is going to be real big." Johnson says. "We've got great defensive backs so if we get pressure on the quarterback and force him to throw some bad balls, and get some sacks and some hurries, our defensive backs are going to get interceptions. And, that's going to help us win games, getting turnovers."
Spencer Johnson runs a one-on-one drill vs. offensive tackle Ryan Broome.
The lack of sacks was not a pretty sight for Johnson and his fellow defensive linemen. Neither was a 7-5 season with the stumbling finish. "Everybody knows that it was pretty embarrassing last year, coming in strong and dropping off so badly at the end," Johnson says. "We've got to work real hard, harder than our opponents, harder than the people that beat us last year. I think everybody's got that mentality this summer."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Johnson has gained more than 40 pounds since arriving on campus as a big linebacker from Southern Choctaw High School. He is currently at 285 pounds, a weight he would like to stay at this fall. "I think that is a good playing weight for me," he says...Many football players dream of getting a chance to play on national TV in a Monday night football game. The Tigers and Southern Cal Trojans will be doing that on Sept. 2nd. Johnson is excited about making the trip across country for the game. "It's great," he says. "It is the first Monday night game in college football, national TV, going to California. I haven't ever been to California so it's going to be real exciting. And it's going to be a good test for us, going against a good opponent in Southern Cal."...Johnson predicts his team will be improved this fall. "We didn't lose a whole lot from last year," he says. "We lost some good people and some leaders, but we replaced them with some good leaders so we're going to be OK. Our offense is really coming along and the defense was just playing outstanding in the spring. And everybody's just got that killer mentality now so I think we're going to be a great team this year."...Johnson says he likes the new defensive system installed by Gene Chizik. "These new coordinators will give us a chance to utilize our athletic ability. You will see defensive linemen dropping and our team blitzing a lot. We are going out there on the field and having fun getting after somebody. That is a fun way to play football."