BEREA — He’s known by his teammates as ‘JMJ’ and hopefully, James-Michael Johnson will be known soon to Browns fans.
“The (nickname) stuck and I’m cool with that,” he said.
Johnson was drafted in the fourth-round (120th overall) of this year’s NFL Draft out of Nevada. The choice was obtained in a draft day trade with the Broncos. Johnson was known for his versatility in college and was a four-year starter, starting 50 games. He totaled 299 career tackles with 8.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles, ranking sixth in school history in tackles, third in fumbles.
Johnson, along with sixth-round pick Emmanuel Acho are being counted upon to give the Browns much needed depth at linebacker. Johnson can play inside and outside and had been playing in the nickel packages thus far.
With Scott Fujita slated to miss the first three games on suspension as part of the Saints bounty scandal, Johnson is expected to be the chief rival with Kaluka Maiava for playing time.
Pat Shurmur said the Browns have a plan for replacing Fujita at the beginning of the season, despite Fujita’s hope the suspension gets overturned.
“Quietly, we’re doing that already,” Shurmur said on Saturday. “We know that’s going to happen. We’re going to lost Scott for the first three games. We know that so we’ve already decided on a plan. Although it may not be obvious the way we’re rotating the linebackers in there, that’s getting done already.”
Johnson is making his case. He intercepted two passes during Monday’s full pad practice. He picked off Thaddeus Lewis early in practice and then intercepted Seneca Wallace during 11-on-11 team scrimmage.
Johnson is catching the coach’s attention.
“He had a couple (interceptions),” Shurmur said. “He’s played pretty well. He’s had a couple of good days out there.”
Johnson said he was just reacting on his interceptions.
“I was just doing my job, watching the quarterback’s eyes,” he said. “They get paid to try and fake us out and I try to fake them out.
“I just want to do what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I messed up a little today, but corrected it.”
Johnson (6-1, 240) said he feels he’s adapting pretty well to the NFL.
“I feel pretty good out there,” Johnson said. “I feel I’m a pretty good athlete in space. That is one of my strongest points of my game.”
Johnson, like most middle-round draft choices, is just hoping to make the team, rather than setting his sights on starting.
“I’m not really worried about that,” Johnson said. “I just want to do whatever the coaches want me to do. If they need the water, I’ll get the water.
“You always want to get better,” he said. “I want to be at the point where I’m not thinking.”
Johnson just is hoping to get on the field, whether at linebacker or on special teams.
“I have a chance to be in there,” he said. “I want to come in and compete as a rookie in the NFL.”
Besides backing up D’Qwell Jackson in the middle, Johnson is working at strong side (Sam) and weak side (Will) linebacker.
“Nobody has told me anything,” he said. “They tell me to play Sam or they tell me to play Will. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Fujita is 33-years old and has finished on injured reserve in each of the two last seasons. Even if he returns at a high level this season after the suspension, the Browns need to find a young player to take over sooner than later.
Johnson said Fujita has helped him out greatly.
“(Fujita) helps me out a lot,” Johnson said. “I pick his brain. He’s a great veteran player and he has a lot to offer.”
Gordon with Ones: Rookie WR Josh Gordon lined up several times with the first offense in the three wide receiver set. He was out there with WR Greg Little and WR Mohamed Massaquoi.
Shurmur said that’s a real possibility during the season.
“That’s one way to use three of our better receivers,” he said. “It showed up more today (in practice) as we were in a lot of two-minute offense.”
Fellow rookie WR Travis Benjamin also has been showing up. Benjamin caught a deep sideline pass from QB Colt McCoy. He also caught a couple underneath routes.
“He has started to establish himself,” Shurmur said. “One of the questions was how he would be in traffic? He’s distinguished himself in traffic catching the ball with his hands. I hope his development continues.”
Brown Pushed: Shurmur was asked if 33-year old CB Sheldon Brown is being challenged for his starting job.
“Sheldon is the starter,” Shurmur said. “But, I like the development of Buster (Skrine). He’s a gritty, gritty guy. Dimtitri (Patterson) is also playing well.”
Injury Report: Nothing new as DL Phil Taylor and DL Ahtyba Rubin sat out practice along with TE Evan Moore, FB Eddie Williams and WR Carlton Mitchell.
Off Day: Something new with the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is that the player’s will have an off day on Tuesdays during training camp, just as they do in the regular season starting tomorrow.
“But it’s not a vacation day,” Shurmur said. “I hope they take care of their body and prepare. Some guys will come in and look at extra film.”
Shurmur admitted it will be different during training camp.
“It’s unchartered, but our guys are very professional.”