Out of the starting lineup since the Syracuse game after reinjuring a problem ankle, the defensive tackle gave the Ole Miss offensive line fits when Eli Manning tried to pass the football and he gave them fits when the Rebels tried to run.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Johnson limped off the field in the second quarter after the same old ankle problem started bothering him again. He returned in the second half and played although he was not nearly as quick or effective as he was earlier in the game. "It sure makes a difference to have Spencer back in the game and playing well," says Don Dunn, Auburn's defensive tackles coach. "We have missed him when he hasn't been able to play."
Johnson has missed playing just as much as Dunn has missed him. The early part of the Ole Miss game was as close to full speed as Johnson has been since early in the season.
"In the first quarter, I felt really good," Johnson says. "Actually, I didn't even think about the ankle injury. I put it in the back of my mind and just went out there and played. I knew that if I didn't play hard, the guy in front of me was going to beat me so that is what I fed off of and my teammates, also."
Fellow junior Reggie Torbor, who has been battling his own ankle problems at defensive end, says he was delighted to see Johnson back on the field last Saturday at Ole Miss. "Spencer makes a positive difference when he is out there with us because he is such a good player and because he is a leader," Torbor says.
Johnson never had injury problems as a two-sport All-State star at Southern Choctaw High in Silas, Ala. "I can't recall missing any games in high school so it was really a shock to me that I wouldn't be able to go out and finish a game, or even start a game," he says.
After leading his high school team to back-to-back Class 2A state football championships as a linebacker and tight end, Johnson contributed immediately as a true freshman at Auburn during the 2000 season. He played in all 13 games playing end and tackle and finished the season with 28 tackles, including three quarterback sacks. As a starter at tackle in 2001, he increased his tackles total to 48, but he didn't have the type of year he hoped due to injuries limiting his playing time and effectiveness.
Spencer Johnson is one of the team's best all-around athlets.
This year, the injury bug bit him early and has led to a much less productive season than the junior was expecting. "It is a day-to-day process," he says of the rehab on his injury. "Every day I am getting better. Some days, I may go out, I may tweak it a little bit, and drop the percentage down a little bit, but I am definitely not 100 percent and not really close to 100 percent. I am going to have to play through a little pain and go out there and try to get it done the best I can."
There is a question about just how much, if any, Johnson will go out on the field Saturday when Louisiana-Monroe takes the field to play Auburn for Homecoming at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Johnson, linebacker Karlos Dansby and Torbor are defensive starters who are all nursing injuries and are listed as questionable for the game. If they do see action and Auburn gets a healthy lead, as is forecast vs. the 2-7 Indians, they will likely watch much of the game from the sidelines to get them ready for the following week's game vs. Georgia.
Johnson says whatever the coaches and team trainers decide on his playing status for this week is fine with him. "If we get up to a big lead or whatever, they're going to sit us down and save our legs. I don't want to take a chance going out there, tweaking it again and miss these two big (SEC) games at the end of the season so we're going to try to take it easy if we can."