Oklahoma junior Will Johnson knows about struggle. Growing up on the streets of Baltimore, he knows what it takes to survive.
Going through high school and then junior college with nobody batting an eye in his direction, he has learned to take advantage of any sliver of an opportunity presented it to him.
But this might be too much, at least on the field. When Johnson arrived in Norman as a part of the 2015 class, he was around 170 pounds and slated to be a cornerback.
You can pinpoint two things to the turnaround of OU’s season in 2015 after the loss to Texas. Offensively, it’s obvious as offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley brought tempo back to the forefront.
Defensively? Yea, it was Johnson. Moving Steven Parker to safety freed up the nickelback role for Johnson, and he played it well.
He’s not an outside linebacker, though. So what’s being asked of him seems to be unfair on the surface. Johnson is never one to gripe and moan. A true team player, Johnson is trying to be that guy. Under 200 pounds, however, there’s simply not a lot he can do.
“I put Will in some tough situations. Our inexperience at SAM has played a factor in that,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “That’s my fault that we don’t have a guy that we can play big. We needed to play big the other day and we didn’t.
“That’s not their fault. That’s our fault. They put him in a situation where he had to play an outside linebacker. We should have had foresight in that and played a different way.”
What Stoops is alluding to is last year when there was 10 personnel with four wide receivers, Johnson was the perfect man for the job.
When teams went big, brought in two running backs or a fullback, Johnson made way for Devante Bond to set the edge and hold down the fort. It worked.
Against Ohio State in OU’s last game, there was no Bond. Johnson did the best he could, but he’s never going to be a 230-pound pure outside linebacker.
Nobody’s blaming Johnson and maybe Big 12 play will help him return to his usual spot. But his efforts certainly haven’t gone unnoticed and neither has his 17 tackles (12 solo) in two games.
“He’s been doing it as well as he can,” linebacker Jordan Evans said. “I know it’s probably been different for him because it wasn’t his forte last year. He always comes to me or the other guys to know if he’s doing the right things.
“I appreciate that. He’s doing his best. We’re just going to need him to keep doing it because I need him out there. He’s a good teammate to have.”
And with Big 12 play upon us, Johnson should be right at home in his natural position again.null