Fast forward five years later and the massive 6-7, 375-pounder is still receiving attention, only this time it’s in the form of preseason accolades and first round draft pick projections.
The thing about it though is attention never bothered Johnson before, and he isn’t about to let it start to now.
“I just let it go and don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s something I can’t control. It’s an award and I’m happy about it, but I have to move on and go on with practice.”
Johnson is one of four returning starters on the offensive line this season for the Tigers, prompting some to say this could be the best offensive line LSU has ever had.
While Johnson isn’t quite ready to do that, he’s got no complaints about the line for right now.
“We’re pretty good,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, there have been a lot of good offensive lines here, but we’re really good. We feel good about our depth on the line.”
The only question mark on the offensive line heading into the season is at right tackle, where sophomore Joseph Barksdale will be making his first career start Saturday against Appalachian State.
Barksdale saw some playing time in backup and situational roles last season as a true freshman, but Johnson thinks he is ready to step up and contribute much more this season.
“He’s doing well,” Johnson said. “He’s made a lot of improvements. He’s making a lot of his own checks to his side when we are running to his side or on blitzes off the edge. He’s improved a lot.”
Of course, the main job for Johnson and the rest of the offensive line is to protect the quarterback. LSU fans have been waiting anxiously to find out who the starting quarterback is going to be in the season opener and Johnson certainly knows the feeling.
“I’m not sure who the starting quarterback is going to be right now,” he said. “It could come down to either one of them (Andrew Hatch or Jarrett Lee). I feel real good about our quarterbacks though. They had strong camps this year. They’ll be ready to go come Saturday.”
Whether its Hatch or Lee lining up under center at the start of Saturday’s game, this will be the first time since Johnson has been at LSU that they will be heading into a season with so much inexperience at the quarterback position.
Does this affect how the offensive line has prepared heading into the 2008 season?
“No, not really,” he said. “My main thing with everybody up front is to keep the quarterbacks calm and give them time to throw the ball. If we go in there calm and help them with checks, they’ll be alright.”
Keeping the quarterbacks calm in front of 90,000-plus crazed fans may be a big enough challenge in itself, but there will be another team on the field as well to worry about.
After a stunning upset over Michigan last season, many felt the Wolverines just simply overlooked Appalachian State. Don’t expect LSU to fall into that same trap.
“We treat every opponent like they’re the best in the country,” Johnson said. “Going in underestimating somebody is how you get beat. If we go in there practicing hard and working hard, it should be a good outcome for us. But if you go in second guessing yourself and making mistakes, a team like that is going to beat you.”
In the Mountaineers, Johnson and his counterparts will be facing much smaller defensive linemen on Saturday as opposed to what they are used to seeing, especially during SEC play.
Smaller sometimes means quicker but the Tigers are just ready to go out and play their game.
“We looked at the tape and they’re small, but that’s fine because we’ve played against some small defensive lines before,” Johnson said. “We just have to come out and play our game. They’re going to do a lot of moving up front because I’m pretty sure they’re not going to try to stand toe to toe with us. So we just have to go out and play our game.”