Johnson a beast so far in 2006

ATHENS – Charles Johnson has done enough to impress his coach.

"Charles has played great," Coach Mark Richt said. "He's put pressure on anybody who's tried to block him one-on-one. He's gotten sacks; he's gotten tackles-for-loss; he's batted balls down; he's pressured the quarterback; he's made some tackles from behind.

"I'm really thankful that he's come of age so to speak."

Now if Johnson, a junior defensive end from Hawkinsville, could only impress the guy on the other end of the Bulldogs' defensive line.

"Charles is having a good year," said senior Quentin Moses, who emphasized the "good." "I think he's missed a lot of opportunities, too. The opportunities he's missed could have determined people knowing him across the nation or people thinking he's the best defensive end in the country. I think he definitely wants to have more sacks and tackles-for-loss than he has, but he's having a good year."

The expectations are high when you're 6-foot-2, 270 pounds and have shown flashes of brilliance. One of those came last week against Ole Miss, when Johnson had two sacks and a pass breakup and was named the SEC's defensive lineman of the week.

The week before against Colorado, Johnson had one of those missed-opportunity games that Moses was referring to. His only statistical contribution was a pass breakup.

"He still can improve," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "He'll be the first one to tell you that."

Still, Johnson is the SEC leader in tackles-for-loss (nine) and leads the Bulldogs in sacks (3.5). He's second on the team with eight quarterback pressures and three pass breakups.

If Johnson has more games like last week and fewer like the Colorado game, he'll have to make a decision about his football future at the end of the season, a fact that's already a reality thanks to the agents who are calling.

"I'll leave that until after the season," he said. "That's too much to be worrying about right now. I'm just trying to focus on the season."

It would take one whale of a finish for Johnson to leave college early for the NFL, he said. After watching Moses turn down the chance last year, he expects to follow suit.

"After the season's over, it could be a thing I choose to do, but I don't think so," he said. "I'd have to be like a guaranteed top five (pick), and I know that's not going to happen. I really want to come back for my senior year because I want to enjoy my senior year. There's nothing like your senior year in college."

For now, he's worried only about Tennessee. Johnson and Moses will be facing offensive tackles Arron Sears (health willing) and Eric Young.

"Their tackles are the strength of their line," Richt said. "They look like NFLers to me."

No team in the SEC has given up fewer sacks than Tennessee's four, which is a big reason Volunteer quarterback Erik Ainge leads the SEC and is eighth in the nation in passing yards per game (277.8).

"I know it'll be a long day if he's able to stand back there comfortably," Richt said.

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe thinks Johnson and Moses are comparable to Florida defensive ends Ray McDonald and Jarvis Moss.

"Georgia has more speed on the edge," Cutcliffe said. "Florida's probably a little more powerful inside and Georgia kind of makes that up by playing more people inside."

Johnson is eager to face Ainge, if only because it ends a two-week stretch of trying to run down fleet-footed quarterbacks at Ole Miss and Colorado.

"I'd rather play against somebody who sits back in the pocket because with a mobile quarterback you have to worry about him scrambling around like (Ole Miss' Brent) Schaeffer," Johnson said. "With Ainge, he's a great passer, but you really don't have to worry about him running."

He's tougher to miss that way, at least.

Dawg Post Top Stories