When fall camp began, the sophomore strong safety was projected as the starter until a calf injury relegated him to the sidelines. In his place, sophomore C.J. Barnett ascended to the starting spot and did not look back, starting the first two games of the season. But after the true sophomore suffered what head coach Jim Tressel said was probably a season-ending knee injury in the latter half of Saturday's victory against Miami (Fla.), it was back into the lineup for Johnson.
Although he was expecting to start when the season began, Johnson said that was not affecting his daily approach to camp.
"I'm looking at it like this: every day I go in and work hard and get better in every aspect of the game," he said Aug. 8. "I like to say my (biggest strength is my) ability to move around a lot more. I'd like to say that I'm rangy, but I want to get to the point where all my weaknesses become strengths."
A former three-star quarterback prospect according to Scout.com, Johnson projected as a safety in the eyes of the OSU coaching staff due to his natural athleticism. This fall, junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor described Johnson as the most athletic player on the team.
When that comment was repeated to him, Johnson smiled.
"It's close (between us)," Johnson said with a laugh. "Terrelle has got me on the height and the weight but I take that as a compliment, being compared to that. As long as I'm getting mentioned in the top two then I'm cool."
Johnson is listed at 6-2, 205 pounds while Pryor checks in at 6-6, 233 pounds.
After going through a redshirt season, Johnson saw limited playing time last year as the backup to Kurt Coleman. When the senior was suspended for the Indiana game, Johnson saw a career-high 12 minutes of action as the Buckeyes rotated him in to compensate. He responded with three tackles and finished the year with 10.
That season, he was slowed in the early going by injuries. The same was true this year, as Johnson did not play in the season opener against Marshall as he continued to recover from his calf injury.
Tressel pronounced him fully healthy in advance of the game against the Hurricanes, and Johnson recorded two tackles in relief of Barnett. Now in his third season with the team, Johnson is no stranger to his teammates.
"He was the starter going into the season," senior cornerback Devon Torrence said. "He's right back where he needs to be. Orhian is a great athlete. He was enthusiastic about communication when he was on the field so I'm not looking for anything different. As long as he communicates with me and makes sure we're on the same page then we'll be fine."
Johnson will be joined by senior Jermale Hines, who lines up at free safety and has started 18 games for the Buckeyes.
"Orhian is a very athletic guy," he said. "He has a knack for the ball and he's not afraid to stick his nose in there. He's going to be a real good player here."
In the first two games of the season, Barnett recorded five tackles and one pass breakup. He also deflected a pass against the Hurricanes that was intercepted by defensive end Nathan Williams.
Senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said he enjoyed Barnett's physical style of play.
"With safeties it's hard because you only get a couple shots," he said. "You're that last guy, so if you get stiff-armed they're scoring touchdowns. He really stepped in and made those plays that we needed. It's just good to see a younger guy stepping in."
And while a number of players described Barnett as a happy-go-lucky guy, Larimore said that outlook applies to his replacement as well.
"If you see him in the locker room, he's one of the happiest guys and one of the most fun guys to be around," the senior said. "He's going to be optimistic and really try to get after it.
Despite Torrence's optimism, however, Larimore said he feels there will be an adjustment period for the defense.
"You can't get right back on track," he said. "There's a reason there's ones and twos. I think with Orhian, he's a guy that's been focused, really getting in his playbook and understanding what it's going to take to get on the field and what it's going to take to perform. I think he's going to be a guy that will step in and do well for us."