Back At 'Backer, Johnson Looking To Georgia

Linebacker Merrill Johnson talks about his return to the defense against Tennessee Tech and preparing for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Auburn, Ala.--It has been a long year for Auburn junior linebacker Merrill Johnson. Injured in the second game of the season against South Florida, the Silas native has worked hard to get healthy and finally saw some action on defense Saturday in Auburn's win over Tennessee Tech.

Admitting he was a little rusty, Johnson managed to make five tackles on the day and also showed his ability to make plays sideline to sideline. Now looking forward to seeing even more action on defense, he says he's excited about finally getting back on the field.

"It seems like I was a little slow on some things," Johnson says. "In some areas, like for example my shoulder, I was thinking maybe that it wouldn't hold up. I hit a few times and it didn't hurt. I could deal with it. It's not a big deal. It feels good to be back out there running around and hitting."

Suffering from a rotator cuff injury that hampered him for the better part of this season, Johnson finally got back healthy enough to work some on special teams for the Tigers beginning with the Arkansas game, but hasn't seen playing time at linebacker until last week.

"I feel pretty good," Johnson says. "The shoulder is feeling a lot better than it was. It feels good to get back out there and run around on the field with the guys and have fun."

For the year Johnson has just 11 tackles, a far cry from his expectations for the season. Last year as a part-time starter he made 35 tackles and was a very solid performer on defense for the Tigers. Because of that this season has been even harder to take.

"It was very frustrating, but just to see the other guys running around and play as good as they were playing, I enjoyed watching them," Johnson says. "Hopefully, I can get back in the rotation and start back playing and helping out the team."

This week Johnson and the Auburn defense face yet another tough challenge as the Georgia Bulldogs enter a hot football team with back-to-back 40-point games to their credit. Led by explosive tailback Knowshon Moreno, who has rushed for more than 150 yards in three consecutive games, Georgia is a tough matchup for anyone at the moment, but Johnson says it's the kind of challenge the Tigers enjoy.

"We love to see a guy come in running hard," Johnson says. "He's a hard runner. We're just going to see if we can stop him."

Out of action for road games at Florida and LSU, Johnson says he's very happy to be back in action for the final two games of the year at Georgia and against Alabama. Although he's from Alabama and counts his rival as the Crimson Tide, Johnson says he's been around Auburn long enough to know that this week is a special game for any Tiger.

"No doubt," Johnson says. "This is a big game. It's going to be a fun game. It's a hard hitting game every year. We'll just turn it loose and see what happens.

"Everybody gets excited about big games like this," Johnson adds. "A game like this, if you can't get up for it you don't need to be here. A game like this, everybody loves it."

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