Ready For the Football Spotlight

Junior tight end Robert Johnson could be the right man in the right place at the right time to excel in Auburn's offense.

Auburn, Ala.--Bobby Petrino says he likes big tight ends who show soft hands when they catch the football, can stretch a defense by getting downfield and have the power to run over defensive backs and linebackers.

Petrino, Auburn's new offensive coordinator, says he believes that junior Robert Johnson has a chance to one of those types of players.

Johnson likes to hear that kind of talk and plans to do everything in his power to make that a reality this season. The two-year letterman from Jeff Davis High School in Montgomery looks like he will enter the season in good shape to make a run at having his best collegiate season. He is progressing nicely from offseason wrist surgery and should have a clean bill of health when the Tigers open the season Sept. 2nd on the West Coast vs. Southern Cal.

Robert Johnson

Johnson says he is excited about the 2002 season and what he has seen from his team in spring training and summer workouts. "The biggest thing is just keeping a positive attitude because they've got us ranked so low, but we really don't go by the rankings," he says. "We're just trying to stay focused.

"And for me, I'm just trying to come out here and just get my mind and body, and, basically, my soul right for this season. I know it's going to be a great season to look forward to, especially with this offense we've got."

Petrino's offense features the tight ends and the Tigers have three good ones including senior Lorenzo Diamond and redshirt freshman Cooper Wallace, who was a star in spring training.

Petrino says he wants the two older tight ends to be leaders on offense. Johnson says, "That's our (the tight ends') biggest concern. I don't think this team will go far without at least two positive people who can play that big role in this offense. You know, it just so happens that people are looking for us to do that and we're going to live up to that expectation, to that billing. This season's going to be one, especially for tight ends, to remember."

As a sophomore, the 6-7, 270-pounder started five times, but didn't have the type of season he was hoping for as injuries plagued him for a second straight year. He did manage to catch 17 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns, but Petrino says he believes Johnson is capable of much more this fall.

If the tight ends perform as well as the new offensive coordinator expects, Petrino says that they will be a major part of the offense as both receivers and blockers. Johnson agrees. "We are getting a whole lot of different things thrown at us," Johnson says. "There a lot of expectations. On this level, you're going to get expectations. You just try and play hard and play well. We're getting more balls thrown to us than we've have since I've been here so we're trying to come together as a group."

Johnson fights for yardage after catching a pass in a spring scrimmage.

The tight ends have more patterns to run in Petrino's offense than they did in the one Johnson played in the past two seasons when Noel Mazzone was calling the shots. "We're looking forward to that," Johnson says. "Coach Petrino's got a good scheme that he is putting us in. He is having us line up against cornerbacks and safeties that are a little bit smaller than us.

"Whether they're small or big, linebackers or cornerbacks, it really doesn't make a difference," Johnson adds. "We just want the quarterbacks to get the ball to the tight ends. Tight ends can be a weapon in an offense that people just don't use that much so if we can use that weapon, I think we'll be great."

Johnson says he believes it is important for both the offense and defense to pick up where they left of in the spring and not be content with being happy with their levels of play when the pads were last on for the A-Day Game. He says the Tigers need to be physical on both sides of the ball and work hard in two-a-days that start on August 11 so the team will be ready for a major challenge on opening night in California.

The junior says he is excited about the opportunity. "I'm looking forward to it, especially going across the United States to play a team like Southern Cal." He says playing the Trojans, who are predicted by some to win the Pac-10, has helped the team concentrate on getting ready for the entire season. "It has to help because it's going to be a long trip back if we lose. We're not trying to look at that, we're just trying to stay positive, keep our minds right and stay focused."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Johnson's weight fluctuates between 265 and 270. He says strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall is happy when Johnson is that range. "He tells me as long as I keep my speed, it doesn't make a difference."...Because Johnson has been recovering from wrist surgery, he has been limited on what he can do in the offseason conditioning program. However, the rehab has not prevented him from working hard on his lower body, which he says is stronger than it has ever been. "I'm looking to run over a whole lot of linebackers and cornerbacks," Johnson says. "My injury is coming along real well. It's healing right on time."

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