Quarterback Philip Rivers gave one of his receivers some high praise after practice Wednesday.
"Stevie’s off to a heck of a start,” Rivers said, when asked about Stevie Johnson. “If there’s one guy you ask me I’m most excited about, I’d probably single him out just because of the plays he’s made. We’ve already had a handful of trust building plays and confidence building plays between the two of us. It’s not that I didn’t already know -- I’ve seen his track record and what he did in Buffalo and all that -- but until you experience them together, it’s hard and you don’t know. It gets me excited to know that he can be a huge part of our success this year."
Johnson has stood out in training camp so far, stretching to pull in catches in tight coverage and bringing an added element of competitiveness and edge to the receivers corp. The 2008 seventh-round draft pick had three consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons in Buffalo (2010-2012) but in 2014, after being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, posted his lowest numbers since his sophomore season.
General manager Tom Telesco has praised Johnson’s versatility – he can play in the slot or outside – as well as his ability to separate from tight coverage.
“He’s got height, excellent hands,” Telesco said in the offseason.
Whenever complimented about his receiving abilities, Johnson quickly points to the man making the throws.
“Phil is great,” Johnson said after Monday’s practice. “We link together as brothers and it’s only been what, five days? We’re on a good path right now. He just makes everything easier. It’s obvious he’s one of the best. Even when we make a mistake, he can clean it up with his touch, his savvy.”
Johnson hasn't been shy about his admiration for Rivers. When he was first signed by San Diego, he said he had been a fan of #17 for a long time, even going so far as to watch YouTube videos of him and picture himself as a receiver in his offense.
Now that the time has come, it isn’t a disappointment.
“Me, I’m just the new guy,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to fit in with all the stars here. I”ve got to elevate my game every day to let you know I’m here, I’m here to ball with you guys. And then the battles, going against our cornerbacks, it makes us that much better. We gotta fight for everything we get. That’s what it’s about. They’re going to make us better, we’re going to make them better.”
After most practices, when the majority of guys have cleared the field, Johnson stays behind to do extra work -- something he hasn't always done, but sees the importance of now.
“At first I didn’t, because I was a young boy playing football,” Johnson said. “But after being around, watching some veterans, watching Lee Evans, watching Anquan [Boldin] last year … I mean, why not? This is our only hustle, so why not go all in?”
All in is what he's doing, and his quarterback couldn't be happier.