Quality Backup

In 1997 Leon Johnson set the New York Jets rookie record for most punt return yards in a season. Before the beginning of the 2000 campaign Johnson was out of football. Johnson, a fourth round draft choice of the New York, was released at the beginning of the 2000 season.

The running back out of the University of North Carolina was cut following a second knee injury in two years. Besides his knee injury, Johnson when healthy was struggling to find playing time among a crowded backfield including All-Pro Curtis Martin; consequently he was placed on waivers before the start of the 2000 season. Soon before his release Johnson underwent another season ending knee surgery, which forced him to sit out the entire 2000 NFL season rehabbing the injured knee.

Johnson caught a break on October 9, 2001; out of football for nearly fourteen months, he received another chance in the NFL. The Chicago Bears signed Johnson to return punts and act as a back-up running back, in place of the recently departed Glyn Milburn who was placed on waivers. Johnson found himself in a crowded backfield consisting of the NFL's offensive rookie of the year Anthony Thomas, and the Bears leading rusher of the 2000 season James Allen. A quality backup in his own right, Johnson competed in practice and earned a spot returning kicks and punts, along with accepting a few handoffs a game.

Johnson burst onto the Bears scene on a Sunday night in Minnesota in late November, on a crucial third down and one yard. The "A-Train", Anthony Thomas went to the sidelines for a quick breather and Johnson took the handoff went for a 34-yard touchdown run increasing a Bears lead, which they sustained throughout the rest of the game. The Bears and Leon Johnson snuck out of the Metrodome with a 13-6 victory. Johnson earned his position as the "third down and short back", picking up first downs on a consistent basis on third and short during the second half of the season.

Johnson, the man who battled back from two knee injuries and fourteen months out of football, finished the season contributing in twelve games for the Bears, taking 20 handoffs for 99 yards and scoring four touchdowns. Johnson's style of play fits in perfectly with the Bears ground attack and he should see an increased role in the offense in the 2002 season.


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