After Mike Rucker sustained a potentially career-threatening injury late last season, Charles Johnson is in a good position to make a case for himself. Second year pro Stanly McClover will provide stiff competition for Johnson, but both have a real chance to see significant minutes with the team's starting defense.
While at Georgia, Johnson registered a total of 73 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss, 62 quarterback pressures and was named to the 2nd All-SEC team by the Associated Press. He lacks ideal height standing at 6'2" but makes up for it in speed, tenacity and heart. He's known for his quick first step, power, balance and aggressiveness.
The following interview reveals a lot about Charles Johnson; the stand out DE and the man who looks to establish himself in the NFL.
John - How are you doing Charles?
Charles - I'm good, thanks.
So…right out of the gate, how was mini-camp? Was it what you expected?
It was everything and more, it was good to get up there, meet everyone and get back into the flow of things.
I was there yesterday (Sunday May 6) and got to see you participate in some drills, it looked to me that you have great speed on the edge.
(Chuckles lightly) It's alright
Since you ran the 4-3 defense at Georgia, how do you think that will help you out at the professional level?
It helps a lot since they run a similar scheme here as they did in college, though it's a different terminology than we used before. I just have to get out there and learn it.
Good luck with that, so how intimidating is it to line up opposite of Julius Peppers?
Oh yeah, you've got a pro-bowler over there and you try to watch and learn everything he does, try to see how he does what he does. You want to get to that level, so you try to learn from the best.
Ok, so you realize with Peppers and Jenkins on the same line you could have a lot of one on one match ups.
Man, oh yeah, when I got there I realized I was in the best situation I could be in.
You were projected to go in the first couple of rounds and for obvious reasons you were a little disappointed to slide into the third round, looking back do you see how that helped you land with a team like the Panthers and what are your thoughts now?
Now I'm glad I did, I believe everything happens for a reason and as I said before, I'm in a great situation where I can really be successful.
Well we all hope so too. So, what was the biggest surprise of mini-camp this past weekend?
The number of plays and formations they throw at you, it was trying. When you get to the professional level you have to start adjusting to what they do and how they do it. But now I don't have to worry about school, I can just concentrate on doing what I need to do to get ready. Now it's my job and I have to focus on football more than anything else.
Did any of the veterans seek you out and offer their help?
Everybody really, the coaches were constantly calling on the veterans to work with the rookies. Mike Rucker talked to me and did a lot to help me out and to help me get to where I want to be.
How's Ruck doing?
He's doing real well, he stays on the field all the time and he's just trying to rehab, he's doing good.
With Rucker's injury and age it looks as though your stiffest competition may come in the form of second year pro Stanley McClover, did you have a chance to talk to him and size him up a little?
Right now I'm just concentrating on learning all these plays, I'm not worried about starting right now, and I just want to learn what I need to learn. Me and Stanley had met before when I was at Auburn, he was my host. Me and Stanley were cool back then.
Ok, so you have another camp coming up here in about 3 weeks, what are you doing to prepare for this one, now that you kind of have an idea about what to expect?
I'm trying to memorize all the plays, they actually took up all the playbooks at the end of camp, but I wrote all the plays down. I'm just trying to keep them all in my head and everything else that I can possibly learn before I have to go back?
Ah, very smart, that should help you out. So, in your own words, what do you bring to the Panthers?
I think I'm a full defensive end; I'm a good rusher, good against the run so I bring the whole nine. Hopefully I'll have a chance to show it on the field.
What do you have to say to those who said you are/were too small to play defensive end at the professional level.
(Starts off with a laugh) I don't have anything to say, I'll just go out there and prove them wrong.
I'm not real big on judging someone on just the measurables, if you have the heart, brains and desire to get it done them I'm happy to have you.
Yeah, I'm the same way man, I don't care if you weigh 150 lbs at defensive end, if you're out there running around, making plays and doing your thing, no one can say a thing.
Really, I can't compare myself to those guys. They've been in the pro's for several years but it's nice to hear. I just want to be the best Charles Johnson…
Terrific, that's what we want to hear. So…anyone given you hell for being a rookie?
No, not really. It's all good.
Back to Peppers, he's not much of a media guy and he comes off as pretty shy, someone who lets his play do the talking, has he had anything to say to you, any pointers?
Yeah, like I said the coaches were good about getting the veterans involved. He just helped us all out a lot, you really don't have any choice but to listen and learn when someone like that speaks.
There are a lot of veterans on the defense; do you think that will make your transition to the NFL any easier?
Oh yeah, that's one thing I noticed when I got drafted was the number of veterans, that's the good thing about it. There's a lot to learn and I think I wound up in a great situation.
As I'm sure you've noticed the Panthers offense is changing from a man blocking style to more of a zone blocking scheme, as a defensive end, what can you tell me about that?
When you're playing against the zone you're really just trying to catch someone in a gap who's not supposed to be there. I can't tell you how it will change the team's offense, but I really think it's going to be pretty good.
What was the reaction from some of the offensive players this weekend when they started working on the new offense; did they seem pleased with it?
Yeah, I think so from what I saw. I was so focused on the defense and trying to do my job at the same time.
You have to do all the extra little things and go the extra mile. Watch the extra film that you might not be required to watch, there as so many superstars in this league and the only thing you can really do to separate yourself from the rest of the crowd is to do all the things you can do so that you're prepared to face all those guys.
SEC, you played there and it's considered one of the toughest conferences in the collegiate ranks. How does playing at a school like that help you at this level.
Yeah, the SEC is a tough conference to be in and you see a lot of guys make it to this league, it reminds you a lot of the SEC, but this is still a whole other level. Working hard is something the SEC is known for and I think a lot of teams know that if you played at a SEC school then you're going to come in and do your job, they don't have to worry about you being lazy.
Thomas Davis was a safety at Georgia while you were there, do you know him very well and has he helped you in any way?
Oh yeah, he actually called me as soon as they announced the pick at the draft. He was trying to just give me the heads up and let me know what types of things to expect. I know him pretty well because we both come from small towns in Georgia and his home is only about an hour away from my house. He's told me he was going to look out for me, show me the ropes and help me keep my head on straight.
Well it's a good thing he didn't do that on national TV, the other guy who did that got canned.
(Charles erupts into laughter)
You haven't signed a contract yet have you?
No, not yet.
What are you going to do with your first check? Any big plans?
(Laughing again) I don't know man, it depends on what my mom wants.
Good man, keep mama happy. Are you planning on moving to the Charlotte area here soon?
Yeah, I plan on keeping a place up there.
Well Charles, I'm glad you landed in Carolina; I wish you the best of luck and hope to see a lot of you in your tenure here. I appreciate your time and cooperation.
Thanks man, no problem.
Panther fans landed a strong, speedy defensive end that's a mama's boy, has a good work ethic and plays with a mean streak.
Charles will be chronicling his experiences in training camp and the preseason with John Watson and PantherInsider.com this season.