The 6-3, 280-pound junior is running like the linebacker he was in high school while playing with power at defensive tackle. Two years of collegiate experience under his belt certainly have helped Johnson, but nothing has been more important than a return to good health.
"I feel better than I have ever felt," Johnson says. "You know that I am coming off the knee injury and have been rehabbing all summer. Now when I am running around, I don't have to worry about my knee hurting. That is great and it is fun out here and I feel like my old self."
Johnson and his teammates have generally outplayed the offense as the Tigers near the completion of a week's worth of full squad preseason practices. That was the case on Sunday as the Tigers put on full pads for the first time this preseason and ran full speed contact drills.
"We came out a little slow," Johnson notes. "We talked about it at practice that we needed to step up our intensity during the goal line drill. The coaches told us we could take the backs down and have a little fun so we really enjoyed it." The group enjoyed it so much they huddled and celebrated to close a short goal line scrimmage near the end of practice.
Spencer Johnson (53) is shown working against offensive tackle Ryan Broome (60) in spring drills.
Johnson and his defensive teammates are looking to develop a reputation as a hard-hitting unit. "That is something we talk about all of the time," the junior says. "We want to be the most physical team on the field. Everybody has got that mentality that we are going to play hard and play physical. If we do that we will be fine."
As a sophomore, Johnson managed 27 solo tackles and 21 assists in nine starts although he was slowed much of the season with knee problems. His runningmate inside, DeMarco McNeil, was also bothered by knee troubles last fall. However, both look to be back to their old selves and are expected to recapture their starting spots with Johnson at tackle and McNeil at noseguard in new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's 4-3 alignment.
Chizik, who came to Auburn prior to spring practice from the University of Central Florida, preaches playing with intensity and having fun on the field. That is what the defense has been doing starting in spring drills and into preseason two-a-days.
Johnson says that he likes what he is seeing from the new defensive coordinator and his teammates. "If we stick together and continue to play hard, we know that we can become a great defense."
Johnson and the Tigers are scheduled to practice twice a day throughout the week as they continue preparations for the Sept. 2nd opener at Southern Cal.