Johnson fits Ravens' blue-collar mold

OWINGS MILLS – By NFL standards, Jarret Johnson is about as flashy as his red pickup truck.<br><br> Whenever the Baltimore Ravens' second-year defensive end from Alabama is brought up, the superlatives of gritty toughness and a blue-collar work ethic are sprinkled throughout the conversation.<br><br> Johnson plays with an intense style that fits in well with a defensive line that features undersized, unheralded, productive players.

"Absolutely, Jarret's a try-hard guy who's going to give maximum effort and we can live with that," said defensive line coach Rex Ryan of Johnson, who will start his second consecutive game at right defensive end in place of Marques Douglas on Saturday against the Detroit Lions. "He plays the way we want him to play, and he's going to give a good account of himself. I'm not caught up in sack numbers, but he rushes the passer well and plays the run well.

"I think he just competes like a Raven. Right now, he's where we really want him to be. I'm very comfortable with the way he does everything."

While Douglas recovers from a dislocated elbow, Johnson is the Ravens' first answer at right defensive end. He'll compete Saturday against Detroit left offensive tackle Jeff Backus, a former first-round draft pick from Michigan.

A fourth-round draft pick last year, Johnson doesn't have ideal size at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, but has above-average strength and quickness. He draws his highest marks for technique, and has been playing with a lower pad level.

"Low player always wins," Johnson said. "Having that one year behind you always helps, too. They let me play quite a bit last year, and that's going to benefit me a lot this season."

The former All-Southeastern Conference selection registered 18 tackles and a pass deflection in 15 games as a rookie with one start.

The native of Chiefland, Fla., made an impression, too, with his unassuming, lunch-pail approach.

"I think the biggest thing is the experience he got last year," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "Double-J works hard, so I always knew it was a matter of time before he caught on to the NFL game. We tease him a little, being our resident Southerner. He's one of our hardest workers."

Although Johnson is still listed on the roster with the same height and weight as last year, he has garnered compliments for improved quickness and strength.

Those opinions puzzle Johnson, who said he doesn't feel quicker, merely more experienced and capable of taking the most direct route to the football.

"Just a good, tough player, learned a lot and recrafted his body a little bit," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Johnson. "Understands much better what his responsibilities are and the techniques he has to use to get that done."

Johnson is the second-most prolific pass rusher in Alabama history with 23 sacks to rank behind the late, great Derrick Thomas. He also collected 25 tackles for losses among his 190 career tackles.

Yet, Johnson hasn't recorded any sacks in the NFL.

"I've got the worst luck," Johnson said. "If I beat a guy, someone else gets the quarterback. It's kind of frustrating. The guys here are a lot better, of course, than in college.

"I just keep working and don't worry about it. I figure if you keep doing it, eventually good things will happen."

NOTE: Ryan said nose guards Aubrayo Franklin and Maake Kemoeatu (two sacks) will see some action at defensive end against the Lions.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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