Aug 16, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (6) looks to pass the ball in front of New Orleans Saints linebacker Rufus Johnson (59) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans defeated Oakland 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
After spending most of his rookie season last year on the New Orleans Saints practice squad, Rufus Johnson was finally promoted to the team’s active roster during the playoffs. The 2013 sixth-round pick will look to take advantage of the opportunity at training camp in hopes of earning a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.
The Dallas native played two years at Tarleton State, a Division II school in Stephenville, TX, following a transfer from Kilgore Junior College. He had a standout career at Tarleton, earning All-Lone Star Conference honorable mention after recording 47 tackles (15.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a junior. He went on to continue his success as a senior where he was named Lone Star Conference defensive lineman of the year.
Johnson was chosen for a couple of Division II All-America teams, but really reeled in the Saints’ interest after an incredible performance at the Texas vs The Nation game. The contest consists of 50 of the top-rated seniors who played their high school or college ball in Texas versus a crew of 50 top-rated seniors from the rest of the country.
Shortly after he was drafted by the Black and Gold, Johnson made a position switch to outside linebacker. However, during most of this year’s OTA and minicamp, he was working with the third and fourth teams at defensive tackle. With training camp soon ready to kick off, Johnson is anticipating time at defensive end in some packages and snaps along the interior of the line in others. After playing all of his ball on the edge in a 4-3 scheme, he will need to learn to be quicker off the ball against inside blockers in the 3-4.
It looks like the Saints have themselves a hybrid defensive player, which is a plus in the NFL and can benefit Rob Ryan’s approach. With a frame the size of his hometown’s state, the 6-foot-5, 272 pound monster will still have his work cut out for him at training camp. Johnson will likely be battling it out at several different positions, including special teams, which certainly increases his chances.
With full-contact practices set to kick off on July 25 in West Virginia, Rufus Johnson is in the spotlight. His size and adaptability to multiple positions may give the upper hand against a majority of his competitors, but a lights-out performance will be crucial if he wishes to make a solid impact in 2014.