New York Jets’ Jermaine Johnson ready to show his ‘nasty’ side – ESPN – New York Jets Blog

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jermaine Johnson didn’t mind being perceived as the third wheel of the New York Jets’ 2022 first-round draft picks. He was genuinely happy for Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson, the NFL defensive and offensive rookies of the year, respectively. No, what bothered Johnson was the way he played as a rookie.

When the defensive end turned on the tape, he didn’t recognize the guy in his uniform.

“My dominance has usually always popped off tape,” he said. “I always look like the best — one of the best guys on the field. I just didn’t feel that from me last year. I went to work this past offseason and made sure that wasn’t the case this year.”

No player on the Jets’ defense received more praise in the preseason than Johnson, who recorded 1.5 sacks, five tackles and four quarterback pressures in only 37 game snaps. With Carl Lawson sitting out almost the entire month of August with a back injury, Johnson worked with the starters and was consistently disruptive in practice.

The Jets are optimistic about Lawson’s availability for the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, according to coach Robert Saleh, but you can bet Johnson will have a prominent role in the defensive line rotation. After a pedestrian rookie year, he appears poised for a breakout.

“I feel like I made my statement” in training camp, Johnson said.

What statement is that?

“That I’m a dominant player every time I’m on the field,” he said matter-of-factly.

Drafted 26th overall after an 11.5-sack season at Florida State, Johnson joined one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL. He played only 34% of the defensive snaps (301 total), which ranked eighth among the Jets’ linemen. His production was modest — only 29 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

While Gardner and Wilson (drafted fourth and 10th, respectively) received accolades and off-the-field opportunities, Johnson toiled in relative anonymity. He also was outshined by second-round pick Breece Hall, another rookie-of-the-year candidate until a season-ending knee injury in Week 7.

It led to a period of self-reflection for Johnson, who reviewed his performance with a critical eye.

“You can’t be a yes-man to yourself,” he said.

After working to improve his strength and explosiveness during the offseason, Johnson’s goal is to be a force on first, second and third downs. In other words, he’s willing to do the dirty work — defending the run — something he did well in college. Florida State defensive coordinator Adam Fuller told ESPN after the 2022 draft that “the thing that’s best about him, to be honest with you, is the physicality he plays with in the run game.”

Saleh agreed, saying Johnson is “a very violent, nasty human in the run game.” There aren’t many occupations in the world where a boss could talk about an employee in those terms — and mean it as a compliment.

“He defends edges, collapses edges, can two-gap from the edge,” Saleh said. “He’s very impressive in the run game.”

That’s fine, but the Jets’ scheme is predicated on the defensive line generating the pass rush. They don’t blitz a lot, so they count on the front four to apply the heat. All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams produced a team-high 12 sacks from the interior, but their top pass-rusher among the edge players (Lawson) had only seven sacks.

They hope Johnson can elevate the edge production. To do that, he will need more pass-rushing opportunities on third down — only 22 last season, per ESPN Stats & Information.

To maximize his potential, Johnson has made a nuanced change in his game. During the preseason, he rushed at times from the stand-up position instead of a three-point stance. He did it a little last year — 43 out of 135 pass-rushing chances — but it appears it will happen more often this season. The idea, of course, is to improve his get-off time.

Johnson, acknowledging he wasn’t comfortable with it last year, said he now has a green light from the coaches to stand up whenever he wants to.

He’s ultra confident about his prospects for 2023. After sacking New York Giants quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the final preseason game, Johnson posted the video on social media, asking fans to come up with a name for his sack celebration.

“I want to be seen,” he said, “as a player that offenses have to scout for.”

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