Antonio Johnson played his first two post-secondary seasons at Mississippi Delta Community College before transferring to Mississippi State for the 2003 to 2006 seasons.
He was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round of the 2007 draft (152nd overall), attended OTAs and mini-camps, then blew out his ACL in training camp on August 1 of last year. That ended his 2007 season.
Johnson in Titans camp this summer
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
He went through OTAs, mini-camps, and training camp this year without incident, but was placed on the Tennessee practice squad at the outset of the season. He remained there until November 4, when the Colts signed him off the Titans practice squad and onto their 53-man roster.
Heading into the 2007 draft, Johnson was regarded as a wide body that could step into the nose tackle role on a 4-3 defense and eat up space, simply because of his size at nearly 6-feet-3 and every bit of 310 pounds.
However, Scout.com had him rated as the 13th-best defensive tackle overall in the 2007 NFL Draft and projected to go in the mid-to-late portion of the fifth round, which is precisely where he was drafted.
"Johnson is a steady inside run stopper who is still developing his game," veteran NFL scout Tom Marino said about him leading up to last April. "He suffered from inconsistent play effort," added Marino.
The first thing that jumps out when looking at a player like Antonio Johnson is the dates. He played for two years at a community college, then for Mississippi State for four seasons, then was drafted last year. Injury is a concern, to be sure, but there is also some pause that goes along with taking a chance on someone as a prospect if they're old enough to be considered a veteran.
In Johnson's case, though, he graduated high school young and does not turn 24 until December 8, so he still qualifies. If he were to declare for next year's draft, he would be an old prospect, but that would not take into account the experience he gained as a member of the Titans.
Tennessee, from head coach Jeff Fisher to defensive line coach Jim Washburn, had a year and a half to teach the wide-bodied defensive tackle to give full effort, to pursue backside, and to never give up on a play, playing to the whistle.
The Titans' defensive linemen have a reputation for being some of the hardest-working, most active defenders in the NFL and a great deal of that is a direct reflection of Fisher and his staff, Washburn in particular.
Whatever aspect of the try-hard mentality that has not already been instilled in Johnson will be instilled by Tony Dungy, Ron Meeks, and John Teerlinck.
In their continued search for a suitable replacement for Ed Johnson — apparently, the Colts coaches and front office did not agree with my assessment of the run defense and Daniel Muir — Indianapolis appears to have found another body to try to fill that gap.
Antonio Johnson has the size and the ability. By this point, he certainly should have been taught the proper way to do things and had any bad habits knocked out of him. The real question is whether or not he can put it all together.
Bill Polian and the Colts certainly thought enough of him to take a chance and find out. They should still be trusted, even though their track record is less than stellar thus far in 2008.