Asked if he felt that he matured as a little-used reserve in 2006, Johnson replied:
"I matured a whole bunch. It's great that I matured. I learned everything, and I'm more disciplined than I ever have been. When you're disciplined and have confidence and you play with great effort – when I put all of those together – I had a great spring practice."
Though somewhat undersized at 5-9 and 180 pounds, Johnson held his own all spring against bigger receivers such as Casey Woods (6-5, 215), Slick Shelley (6-4, 195), Quintin Hancock (6-3, 200), Josh Briscoe (6-3, 183) and Austin Rogers (6-2, 185). Neutralizing that kind of size requires excellent positioning, excellent concentration and excellent technique.
"It takes a lot of discipline," Johnson said. "As you get older, you get more disciplined and you learn. As you watch film you learn all the different defenses. I came out with more confidence. That made me play a whole lot better than I had been."
Tennessee's coaches noticed. That's why they selected him for the Andy Spiva Most Improved Defensive Player award. Naturally, Johnson was thrilled to get some positive reinforcement.
"It's great," he said. "I came out this spring knowing I was going to get better. I watched film, took everything the coaches told me and knew I could come out here and do everything everybody else could. I took it and I ran with it, and I made plays."
Tennessee's defensive coaches are hoping Johnson will continue to make plays once the 2007 season arrives. If he does, that will make the Vol secondary better. How much better?
A whole bunch.