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New face in the crowd

Posted May 24, 2012

It has been nearly a decade since new San Diego outside linebacker Jarret Johnson was one of the new faces in the huddle.

“I kind of feel like a rookie again,” Johnson said of his initial on-field reaction during Phase Two of the team’s offseason workout program.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound  linebacker spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens in relative obscurity, playing alongside notable defenders Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

Despite being just another face in the crowd in some highly-touted Baltimore defenses, Johnson played in a Ravens’ franchise-record 129 consecutive regular-season games and started 89 in a row, including playoffs.

What does such a feat mean for the Chargers?

“When you sign a veteran player that’s had the kind of success and presence he has, it helps everyone around him, and he’ll raise our level of expectation as a defensive group,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “I think he’ll bring a real attitude to our group along with his physical presence.”

Johnson’s hard-nosed and nasty style of play may be hardwired in any NFL linebacker, but his selfless attitude, consistency and durability are the characteristics of a consummate professional.

Fellow linebacker and Chargers’ defensive captain Takeo Spikes knows first-hand the challenges that come with being the new guy, and calls Johnson “more than efficient.”

“Not only can you rely on him but you also know that he has play-making abilities,” Spikes said. “If he’s not making a tackle, he’s making a play by putting a man in the gap and letting somebody else make the tackle.

“From the outside looking in, usually when guys come from other teams where other guys have all the glory and the headlines, now it’s your time to leave your impression. I know it’s a great challenge for him.”
 
Johnson believes he is now in the type of defensive scheme and philosophy where he can really excel, but his team-first approach will not allow him to seek personal accolades and glory.

“My goal on every play is just to dominate the man in front of me,” Johnson said. “My goal is to have a better play (than the man in front of me) on every down.

“I’m excited about this group. Even though there are a lot of differences (from Baltimore), they’re both extremely good. I’m excited about playing in this scheme. It turns you lose. Not a whole lot of thinking, just reacting and playing.”

Johnson’s productivity speaks for itself.

He averaged 58.8 tackles, 3.4 sacks and 1.6 forced fumbles the last five seasons, starting every game for a Baltimore team that played in nine playoff games during that span.

“When you’re somewhere and everybody knows you, they know what to expect out of you,” Johnson said. “Here, you’re the new guy. Everybody’s wondering what they’re going to get out of you. What kind of person you’re going to be. What kind of player you’re going to be. I feel like I have to prove myself again, even though a lot of these guys know me. It is a shot of life.”

Johnson compliments a group of veteran outside linebackers that includes Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes and Larry English, along with the team’s 2012 first-round draft pick, Melvin Ingram.

“Getting Jarret, who is an experienced player that’s played for a long time, is going to help us,” defensive coordinator John Pagano said. “Two things you’ll never have to say to him are, ‘hustle and play with effort.’ This defense is going to give him opportunities to go out there and cut loose.”

Johnson has far surpassed his rookie year, but likened his feelings about his first offseason in San Diego to his first season in the NFL because he is filled with the vigor and excitement of a 22-year-old.

His experience, coupled with his youthful exuberance, should bode well for the Bolts in 2012.
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