Johnson silent but deadly

The phrase "silent, but deadly" can be used to describe all manner of assassins on the football field.

In linebacker Dravannti Johnson's case, the term can be used to describe his skill at making plays, while largely avoiding the stat sheet.

Take Saturday's victory over Texas Tech for example. Don't bother trying to find Johnson on the game statistics unless you're willing to go way down on the tackle chart. Making one tackle will do that to a player.

But talk to Texas head coach Mack Brown, and you'll find that Johnson was rewarded for his play with the "Ball Hawk" award. Ask defensive coordinator Will Muschamp about Johnson's performance, and Muschamp breaks into a rare smile.

"He really caused a fourth-down stop and he caused an interception the other night, on Curtis's pick," Muschamp said. "We had a nice pass rush game called and he came clean on it, really nice execution on his part, and forced a tough throw. So that was two critical plays in the game.

"So we're real pleased with his progress and he's done a nice job in three games so far this year," Muschamp said. "His role will change a little bit Saturday. We'll be playing with more regular personnel with what they do, but been real pleased with where he is."

As long as the defense keeps producing, Johnson doesn't mind the low number on the stat sheet. This week, he said he was more than happy to play physically, taking on blocks so fellow linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson can fly around and make stops. He called Saturday's game "a phenomenal defensive effort," and said that it was made so because "everybody played together and did what we had to do."

That last phrase describes Johnson as a player, and also what his teammates and coaches like most about him. Johnson isn't going to sell out his teammates to try and make a play.

"Dravannti provides a lot of toughness. He's one of the strongest guys on the team, on the field and in the weight room," Acho said. "This week we're going back to our regular package and he's the starting SAM in that package so now he's really going to get to show his skill set and show his strength at the end of the line, playing that end of the line 'backer. Obviously he provides even more depth at the end position, which is great when you're play spread teams and we're going 60-70 snaps per game.

"There are a lot of hidden statistics that you don't get to see with Dravannti as a player," Acho said.

That's somewhat rare in that Johnson isn't exactly somebody who is easy to hide. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, he's Texas's biggest linebacker, a slab of muscle that runs much better than it should. He played defensive end in high school, but showcased enough athleticism that the coaches decided to move him back and stand him up more often. That transition took time, and Johnson, now a redshirt sophomore, didn't play at all his first two seasons.

"This is my third year being here, and I've done it for so long, going from putting my hand on the ground to standing up on one play," Johnson said. "So it doesn't really matter to me any more. I can do whatever the coaches need me to do."

Johnson said he learned that attitude from watching players like Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle dominate opposing offenses. He always knew that he could thrive in Muschamp's system, one built on moving versatile athletes around to take advantage of their unique talents. After sitting and waiting his turn, Johnson has entrenched himself as Texas's starting SAM linebacker, logging eight tackles and three pressures on the season.

"I just had to get back into the groove of things from being on a football field," Johnson said. "I hadn't been on the field for two years, so man, for that first game, I was a little nervous. I had to get the jitters out. I had to get the mistakes out of my system, get used to being in front of the fans again and get used to playing again and having fun.

"I feel a lot more confident than I did a year or two ago," Johnson said. "I just want to go out and do my job."

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