A Sense of Urgency

MADISON - With 13 starts in the last two years, senior safety Shelton Johnson is one of the most experienced players in the secondary. Talking with Badger Nation prior to the spring game, Johnson says the biggest thing standing between his group and greatness is consistency.

When you watch from last year, how would you say your secondary played overall?

Shelton Johnson: I mean, I was pretty happy with how we played overall. Every now and then we would have a miscommunication of a breakdown, but I think as an overall group we were pretty good.

How about you personally?

Johnson: I think toward the end of the season I started doing a lot better. I don't want to say timid, but I wasn't as confident in my reads and my breaks early in the season as I was at the end of the season. I did get some experience the year before, so I had a little bit of experience.

What do you take away from past safeties like Aaron Henry, Chris Maragos and Jay Valai? What do you take away from them that you still carry with you?

Johnson: The film room is extremely important. I know guys like Maragos and Valai lived in the film room. You can tell how it paid off in their careers here and now in the NFL for some of them.

With you being the senior of the group, what burden now falls on your shoulders that fell on the previous seniors? What do you have to do differently now?

Johnson: I would say consistency is a big deal. The only problem issue that we had last year was being consistent 100 percent of the time. We would have 99 good plays, but that one bad play would stick out like a sore thumb. Having a consistent player back there sets an example for the rest of the players out there.

Was the scrimmage last Saturday a perfect example of that because you had a lot of solid plays, but a couple misalignments caused some big runs by the running backs?

Johnson: Exactly. Just one person being misaligned or one step outside of their gap is an error. It's not consistent. It's not what we need in this defense if we want to be a great defense instead of a good defense.

Do you watch a lot of film last year, especially those games where you have a lot of good plays but have one bad play that changed the game?

Johnson: Before spring ball, I studied a lot of the previous season to find out what I could do better and what I could improve on. Since spring ball started, I am in the now and correcting my mistakes of what I did yesterday oppose to a couple months ago.

What were some of the mistakes you made in the first couple practices that you have since corrected and have improved how you play?

Johnson: I would probably have to say my post play. I've gotten a lot more comfortable breaking on the quarterback's reads than I have in the past. That's a testament to coach Ash, who has really been harping on that lately. I think I have improved in that area a lot. I know last year I would say in my position the whole time until the ball was thrown. You really can't make plays doing that.

What do you like working next to Dezmen Southward and how do you two make each other better?

Johnson: Communication is always a big thing, but our consistency is something we need done well and need to continue to work on. I hate to keep repeating the term, but consistency is the most important thing we can work on during this spring. Dez and I have some experience, but it doesn't mean a lot if we can't play all the plays at 100 percent and allow the offense to have those big plays.

How have you changed your body going through winter conditioning and how have you approached this spring knowing that it is your last spring?

Johnson: I think I have really had a sense of urgency this spring. I have changed my eating habits a lot. I know coach Ben Herbert takes us grocery shopping a lot. That's been a big change, especially in my diet, but I have put on about 15 pounds this winter in the weight room. I am flirting with 200 pounds right now. Hopefully I can play around 205 when the fall comes.

What's the big difference in your game with that extra 15 pounds of weight?

Johnson: Honestly when I am in the box, I can really tell a huge defense, especially when I am taking on a pulling lineman or a fullback. I don't have to put as much into it as I would have when I was 185. When I was that weight, I was either full speed or I was almost on my back. I can really tell I have some more power.

How do you like what new assistant coach Ben Strickland is working on you with, especially since he is a former player who played the position?

Johnson: I think it's a great relationship. Some times as a player who can feel underappreciated or feel like the coaches don't understand your perspective. That's not the case at all with Ben Strickland, because you know he was there just a few years ago. He was in our shoes just a few years ago. Especially being here at Wisconsin, he knows the defense. He's not a guy that has to come in and relearn everything. You are absolutely sure you know what he's talking about and from being a player and a graduate assistant here, you have that extra motivation to listen to him. You feel like he has that extra background that you know what he's talking about.

What's the big goal for you and your group heading into the spring game?

Johnson: I know I need to work on finishing. I've got my hands on a couple of balls that I didn't bring in. That's definitely a big one for me. As a unit, we just need to eliminate the big plays and make the plays we can make. We don't need to chase plays, but the make the plays that come to us and finish on those plays.

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