Johnson became one of the go-to guys in the secondary last fall thanks in part to injuries suffered by other players. Ironically enough, Johnson lost his chance of winning the starting strong safety spot because of a calf injury he suffered late in preseason camp. That job went to C.J. Barnett, who started the first two games before going down with a season-ending knee injury during the game against Miami (Fla.). Johnson stepped in and started the last 11 games of the season and became a mainstay while other secondary mates – players like Tyler Moeller and Christian Bryant for example – also suffered injuries.
Still, Johnson did not always look entirely comfortable last season. He struggled with tackling and was sometimes slow to react to plays as they developed. Johnson himself is the first to admit that he has not played his best football as a Buckeye yet.
"I would say I haven't reached what I want to think is my peak or reached my potential," Johnson said. "I took last year as a learning experience. It was a time for me to really get back into the groove of playing football. I had been out there for special teams, which is important, but actually being out there for drives and getting that experience is important. It was definitely needed."
Safeties coach Paul Haynes said he's seen an improved Johnson through the spring and during preseason camp. In practices open to the media, Johnson has often been the most vocal player in the secondary, helping teammates get lined up and pointing out things for others to watch for.
In short, Johnson looks more comfortable out on the field.
"I think it's definitely a function of experience," Haynes said. "The more you get out there in the fire, hopefully the more comfortable you feel.
"Orhian is a guy that studies the game a lot. ... He's a student of the game."
Johnson had plenty of time to study after coming to Ohio State after playing both safety and quarterback for St. Petersburg (Fla.) Boca Ciega. He took a redshirt in 2008 and mainly worked with special teams units in 2009. That gave Johnson a chance to digest Ohio State's playbook and focus more on defense after picking OSU over a chance to come in and play quarterback at Indiana.
"Having to come and sit down makes you mature a lot," Johnson said. "You have to understand the reason why and work on what you have to improve on. You have to get better, and I tried to take all that in stride and stay focused on getting myself better and being ready for when my time came."
His time is here, and with that comes added expectations.
"Getting lined up and doing those things isn't good enough from him," Haynes said. "He should be able to do those things. Now we've got to turn the page and make sure he becomes a playmaker and becomes productive."
Johnson agreed with those sentiments and said he is working hard to do just what Haynes and the rest of the Ohio State defense needs.
"I definitely want to keep striving," he said. "I want to be smarter on the field. I want to be more physical. I want to be so many things, and I know it'll come with hard work. I have to ask questions. I have to stay in the film room and become a better overall football player and not just someone who can do one thing well."