Johnson has waited for his time to come

ATHENS – After waiting and watching, Kelin Johnson will get his crack at the starting lineup this Saturday against Western Kentucky.

It's not that Johnson hasn't started before, he did that last season against Kentucky, but this time he will likely hold onto the starting job for longer than one contest.

"Things have not been that much different for me than in the past," Johnson said. "But I do find myself watching more film and it seems like I am making more plays out there."

Tra Battle and Johnson are slated as the team's starting safeties for the season opener. After being an under-valued recruit from Daytona Beach, Florida, Johnson played his freshman year, primarily on special teams, before working his way into the backup role last season. Now Johnson said he feels ready to take his work from the past and use it during the regular season.

"I feel like I have learned more," Johnson said of his third year in Athens. "I think I know the defense better. I feel like I know how to play with the linebackers better. I am learning how to communicate with Tra back there."

The junior also said this year's defense has focused on creating turnovers. Johnson said that it was one of the most important things his unit could do to help the Bulldogs repeat as SEC champions.

"We stress getting the ball back," said Johnson of the defense's ambitions to return the ball to Joe Tereshinski and the offense. "That is one thing our defense – we need to have that mentality for the team. If our offense is going to be successful they have to have the ball. Coach Martinez does stress that. We have periods during practice where all we focus on is stripping the ball."

Johnson's play during fall camp held off a surging C.J. Byrd from the starting spot. But Johnson said there is no ill will between him and the sophomore.

"C.J. is getting better," Johnson admitted. "I like to see younger guys fight. I am happy for him when he makes a play and I am sure he is happy for me when I make a play. I have nothing but cheerful thoughts when I see someone else, especially a safety, doing good things."

Now Johnson will focus on wreaking havoc when the band plays. He admitted that being listed as a number one safety affected him some this fall.

"Just knowing that you are out there every snap," said Johnson of starting. "That's what's crossed my mind more than anything else. I just want to play. I just want to get onto the field. To be behind Greg Blue and Thomas Davis, and to learn the defense from those guys – now I am going to be out there the majority of the time like they were, and I know I have to focus that much more out there. I have to listen to Coach Martinez that much more. Little things – you never know what little things will pop up during the game and you have a grasp on it, and you make a play."

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