Although I watched a pretty fair amount of SEC football last fall, I did not have a clue who Antonio Johnson was when the Titans selected him in the fifth round of the draft. That was due in part because he was a junior college transfer.
I was encouraged right away by two things that I learned about him. First, that he was a defensive tackle, a position of need for the Titans, and second, that he played at Mississippi State under Sylvester Croom.
Croom has an impressive background as an All American player and an assistant coach under Bear Bryant at Alabama, so you’d be right in assuming he’s a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t tolerate many mistakes, on or off the field. Croom also spent time in the NFL as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator before taking the head coaching position at MSU.
Titans right tackle David Stewart played for Croom at MSU and using him as a possible reference point, I’d have to say Croom produces certain kinds of players that are guys I could like. Croom is a guy who doesn’t take any crap off anybody and instills some of that attitude in his players. Stewart certainly fits that mold. He’s got a take-no-prisoners approach to the game.
I guess you see where I’m going with this, and if you think I sound like more of a Sylvester Croom fan than an Antonio Johnson fan at this point, you’d be right. I’ll have to see Johnson on the field before I’ll have a more informed opinion on him.
Another coach I have a high opinion of is Titans’ defensive line coach Jim Washburn. I would have to assume that GM Mike Reinfeldt got a thumbs-up from Wash before selecting Johnson.
Here’s the good word on Johnson from Titans coach Jeff Fisher:
“He is kind of a late bloomer,” Fisher said. “What stood out to us on the film was the strength, explosion and he has a quick first step. We really feel like a lot of his good football is ahead of him … his strength right now is against the run with his penetration and being disruptive. As he learns to use his hands and things like that, then he should be very effective inside.”
Fisher also had the following opinion on Croom:
“Coach Croom is not going to permit anything other than the right things that take place in his program. That in itself says a lot. You know what kind of guy you are going to get out of their program.”
The Titans will probably keep four defensive tackles on the roster. Albert Haynesworth, Randy Starks and Rien Long look to be pretty certain to make the team. Last year’s fifth-round draft pick Jesse Mahelona will be Johnson’s main competition in training camp and DT/DE Tony Brown is also in the mix. The Titans’ DTs were consistently gashed against the run game last year and any help will be welcomed.