Fourth-round pick Gartrell Johnson enjoyed a dominant career at Colorado State. He was finally given a chance to be "the man" as a senior and responded in a big way, carrying 278 times for 1,476 yards (5.3 ypc) and 12 touchdowns.
This season, the Chargers hope Johnson can replace the power-running component that was lost with the defection of Michael Turner to the Atlanta Falcons. Beyond this season, Johnson could have a much bigger role, depending on what the team does with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.
Is Johnson fully ready for so much responsibility? To find out, SDBoltReport.com's Samantha Fillerup snagged Colorado State recruiting coordinator Greg Peterson for an exclusive interview.
Samantha Fillerup: Johnson enjoyed an impressive career with Colorado State. Will he be able to continue that kind of success in the NFL?
Gartrell Johnson runs away from fellow rookie Larry English during Mini Camp.
Greg Peterson: I think there's no doubt about Gartrell's ability to play at the next level. There are so many things he can bring to the Chargers. I think it has to do with his work ethic and his character. He is one of the hardest workers I've ever been around, whether it's in the weight room, on the practice field or in the film room. He was a young man that always made a great investment of always being prepared. I know he'll continue those work habits. Regarding his character, he's the type of young man you want on your team. His teammates with the Chargers are going to appreciate him. He's a humble young man; he brings his hard hat and his lunch pail and goes to work every day. Rather than do a lot of talking, he just plays and lets his production speak for itself.
SF: What is the best aspect of his game?
GP: I think he's a very physical type of runner. I think he's a very tough individual. His yards-after-contact statistics are phenomenal. He's a big, strong, physical back that the first guy is not going to bring down. He's going to make those tough yards. People talk about his speed factor, but he can make some big plays. The two other aspects of his game: 1) he's a very good pass protector, and I know the Chargers throw the football quite a bit, so he'll do very well as a pass protector; and 2) he catches the ball out of the backfield very well. He's a guy that really is a complete back and can do a lot of things in that offense.
SF: What part of his game still needs improvement?
GP: I think he would tell you that he'd like to say he can run a 4.5 in the 40 and just be able to make that long-distance run. He had a lot of long runs in his career in college, but I know the speed of the game is better in the NFL and he's a guy that will work hard doing all the right things and try to become a faster running back.
SF: How would you describe Johnson's demeanor on the football field?
GP: He's tough. He was one of our captains and he led on and off the field and in the locker room. He's one of those guys that on game day or on the practice field, he is very intense and very focused and he's going to go to battle each and every day.
SF: Are there any NFL running backs that remind you of Johnson?
GP: I don't know if I get to watch a whole lot of the NFL, so I don't know if I can answer that. The back that the Chargers traded away a year ago to the Atlanta Falcons (Michael Turner), I think [Johnson] may be similar to him in a lot of ways. I don't know if he's as fast, but he's a big, physical back that can make those tough yards and pass protect and catch well.
SF: What preparations did Johnson make in college that will help in the NFL?
GP: I think he has a tremendous work ethic. That's something you can't teach or coach. Every time he would take a hand-off, I don't care if we were doing an inside-run drill, he was looking to run 80 yards to the end zone. It's the same thing in the weight room; when those workouts were over, he was going to do more. From a mental standpoint, he understands the game of football. Our offense we run at Colorado State is very similar to the Chargers and from a scheme standpoint, he's got an advantage coming in there because I think some of the ways we call our plays are the same as the Chargers do. The pass protection schemes are very similar, too. We run a pro-style offense at Colorado State and I think that's a benefit to him.
Johnson is not the first of Peterson's proteges to earn a spot in San Diego's backfield. Peterson was the co-offensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2003 and 2004, when Darren Sproles was smashing school records on a weekly basis.
"He is a nice young man," said Peterson of Sproles.