New Orleans Saints Sophomore Spotlight: Austin Johnson
By John Hendrix
The New Orleans Saints have had some memorable players line up for them as their fullback in the Sean Payton era. Arguably, they all left some type of lasting impact on us. Whether your favorite was Jed Collins, Mike Karney, or Heath Evans, you remember something they brought to the table. We continue our series that highlights the sophomores on the Saints roster by looking at Austin Johnson.
Now, I already know you’re about to say, “John, Austin Johnson is starting his third year with the Saints.” Yes, that’s true. Johnson joined the team in 2013, but spent the entire year on the practice squad. To go a step further, the extremely bearded one has actually been in the league since 2012, as he joined the Baltimore Ravens after going undrafted.
Austin Johnson didn’t get his first official NFL action until last year, and made his debut in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Johnson would see action in seven games for the Saints as the featured fullback, and of the team’s 1,818 rushing yards last season, Johnson’s impact helped churn out five straight 100-yard rushing games by the Saints in the first five games.
Like many fullbacks, Johnson didn’t have flashy stats. However, Johnson had plenty to celebrate when scored his first career touchdown in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions. Johnson was the recipient of a Drew Brees pass, and took it 13 yards to pay dirt to open the scoring up early in the second quarter.
Sadly, a knee injury against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8 would cut Johnson’s season short, as he’d be placed on injured reserve on November 4, 2014.
I’ve talked about Austin Johnson at length back in March, specifically looking at the roster battle/debate between him and veteran Erik Lorig. It’s slowly started to turn heads during OTAs and minicamp sessions, and is actually one of the most underrated roster battles to pay attention to over the next couple of months.
Johnson appeared in 46 less snaps than Erik Lorig last year, and graded out better in all aspects. You can argue that the offensive plan of attack might have changed during the back half of the year, but the Saints had five games over the final seven in which they did not come close to 100 rushing yards collectively.
Austin Johnson, who just turned 26 two weeks ago, will battle Lorig for the team’s starting position. With an improved offensive line, a fullback will be crucial to helping the Saints talented ground attack succeed. Johnson did it once, and there’s no reason that he can’t do it again. Arguably, Johnson’s ability as a better option on special teams could ultimately leave the Saints pondering whether or not to carry two fullbacks on the roster in 2015.
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