Vaught's Views: Johnson continues to improve

September 21, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

If it had not been for the final score, last week would have been a memorable game for Dennis Johnson.

He had five tackles, including two for loss, and broke up one pass for the Arizona Cardinals. However, despite his solid play at defensive end, Seattle still beat Arizona 38-0 and dropped the Cardinals to 0-2.

"I probably had one of my best games, or maybe my best game, but it doesn't matter that much if you play well and the team doesn't win," said Johnson via telephone from his home in Phoenix.

He's hoping for a much better result today when the Cardinals host Green Bay.

The former Harrodsburg and University of Kentucky player got in on only about 10 snaps in Arizona's season-opening loss to Detroit because the Cardinals' offense controlled the ball and the defense gave up several quick scores.


"The whole defense only had 44 snaps. I had almost that many myself last week," Johnson said. "Being on the field more made a big difference last week. I got to make plays and it felt like I was back in college. I got in the gaps and did a few good things."

That's what Arizona wanted when it made him a third-round draft pick last year. However, the 2002 season was a learning experience in the NFL and he had just 21 tackles, including 14 solo stops.

He did what he could in the offseason to help himself. He hit the weights and increased his playing weight from 260 pounds last year to 272 this season.

"My brother (Derrick) always told me I was weak, but the first time I came home he told me he couldn't believe how thick my arms were and how much weight I had gained," Johnson said. "I did a lot of running also to make sure the added weight wouldn't hurt my speed because in this league, you've got to be able to move.

"Last year taught me a lot of things. I have a better grasp of all the assignments and checks. We take a lot of criticism here, but (line coach) Joe (Green) tells us as long as we hustle, that's all we can do."

He has been watching Smith

Johnson has also watched free-agent acquisition Emmitt Smith to help his football education this year. Smith was an All-Pro running back with Dallas for years and has been on Super Bowl championship teams.

"He's real cool to all of us and he's always willing to work," Johnson said. "If you see him working, you know you better work a little harder, too.

"He's a celebrity, but he's also down to earth. You can ask him questions. If you make a good play, he'll smack you on the head to let you know he saw it. He just loves the game. He could have walked away because he has all the money he needs. But he came here because he loves football. That's what people don't see about him."

Smith doesn't love losing. He made that clear to his teammates after Sunday's loss that was seen by just over 20,000 fans in Phoenix. Johnson obviously shares Smith's sentiments.

"We don't want it to be like last year. We've got to dig and dig to make this work," Johnson said. "I don't care how many fans are here, or not here. You play for the guys around you. You can't worry about yourself or the crowd. You get paid to produce.

"We can still be a good team. We have a winning attitude. We just have to improve. Myself, I want to duplicate the performance I had last week, or play even better if I can."

Johnson was mildly surprised that Jason Dunn, who played for Johnson's father, Alvis, at Harrodsburg, got a touchdown catch for Kansas City in last week's win over Pittsburgh.

He knows personally that Dunn is paid to block, not catch passes.

"People don't know how much of a beast he is," Johnson said. "When we played them last year, he hooked me once and wouldn't let me out. He's a man. He's one of the two or three best blocking tight ends I've faced. He plays his role and for what he does, he's very, very good at it."

Johnson wants others to one day say the same thing about his play, just like they did when he was at Harrodsburg and UK.

However, he also knows to appreciate every day in the NFL.

"I am blessed to be here. This is a dream for a lot of kids and I try to remember that," Johnson said. "Life is good. I get to travel and get paid a lot of money for playing football. You never know when the end might come, so you better enjoy every day and never take it for granted.

"Sometimes when you lose, that's not easy. But this is a good life because you are getting paid for what you love to do. How many people get to do that?"

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