Monday, June 17, 2024

Johnson shows perseverance auditioning for seventh team in five years

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Over the past five years, Jon’Vea Johnson has auditioned for seven pro football teams.

He has pulled in passes from Dak Prescott, Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Nick Foles and Andy Dalton, but not enough of them to catch on for a full-time job with the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears or Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Along with those three NFL teams he also has been released by the Memphis Showboats of the USFL and the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL, and now at the age 28, Johnson is trying to crack an Ottawa Redblacks roster that is deepest at the receivers position.

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If he fails, will he move on to the next chapter of his life?

Are the Redblacks his Last Chance Saloon?

“I’m a second-generation professional player so yeah, it’s kind of just embedded in me,” Johnson, the son of former Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Jason Johnson, said Monday of the perseverance he has shown in pursuit of his goal. “Sometimes doubt does creep into my mind., but I’ve been doing this so long it’s just almost like second nature to me.

“Until body taps (out) I want to be able to play. Whenever I get a chance to go home I bump into a lot of guys, older guys who say, you know, ‘I coulda, shoulda, woulda.’ I always look at that, and I’m like, no I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be where I coulda, shoulda, woulda.

“I think that’s what really keeps me driving.”

Just like a well-tuned Lexus over the past couple weeks.

Over the early days of camp, Johnson has earned favourable mentions from coach Bob Dyce as he and fellow American rookies Kalil Pimpleton and Andre Miller push for work in a receiver’s room that already has established veterans in Jaelon Acklin, Bralon Addison, Justin Hardy, Dominique Rhymes and DeVonte Dedmon.

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In Saturday’s pre-season opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — with all the aforementioned vets except Dedmon back in Ottawa — the 6-foot, 190-pounder from Gary, Ind., played a starring role in a 31-22 victory at Tim Hortons Field.

Of the 22 receivers to catch at least one pass in the game, Johnson was the only to nab as many as five.

Included in his 54 receiving yards was a 10-yarder from Dustin Crum near the midway mark of the third quarter that put the Redblacks ahead 21-16 with a lead they would not relinquish.

“One of the things we talk about is the old (Bill) Belichick thing — when it’s your chance, do your job,” said Dyce. “The majority of the guys did that. Those are the positives that you want to build on. A guy like Jon’Vea, who was here with us on our practice roster expansion later last year, came in and when he had the opportunity, he made plays. Across the board, there were different guys who stood up at different times.”

Still, barring an injury, it would seem Johnson has to do more than simply distinguish himself to make the active roster, especially with Pimpleton more than adept at backing up Dedmon as a return specialist.

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Another one of the things the Redblacks talk about is “not worrying about what you can’t control,” said Dyce.

“He can’t control how the other guys play,” continued the coach. “He’s just focused on himself and being the best Jon’Vea he can be. The situation is going to work out how it works out. That’s what I really like about Jon’Vea. He’s just going out there and he’s working and he’s making the most of his opportunities.”

What Dyce also likes about Johnson is his resolve.

“At the end of the day you want fighters,” said Dyce. “Guys who aren’t going to give up on themselves, find themselves in adverse situations and they’re going to keep battling. He’s played a lot of different spots in a couple of different leagues, but obviously the game means a lot to him. You can see in his work ethic that he’s trying to seize every opportunity he can and like I said, the more guys you get like that, who are willing to work and do what’s asked of them and just focus on themselves, the better we’ll be.”

Johnson might be with the Alouettes or Tiger-Cats if not for some bad timing with a quad contusion and high ankle sprain.

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He might be someone who has never been to Canada with a break or two while applying for employment down south.

As a junior at the University of Toledo, he played 14 games on the opposite side of the field from Diontae Johnson, who is now with the Carolina Panthers after spending five seasons, mostly as a top target, with the Steelers.

In five years with the Rockets, “J.J.” had 125 catches for 2,265 yards and 25 touchdowns, which is tied for second most in school history.

But instead of being an established ball-catcher at the next level, he’s still waiting to play his first regular-season game as a pro.

“I just want to just show my ability, and my ability to stretch the field, that I’m a deep threat,” Johnson said of his mindset heading into Ottawa’s camp. “I’m a pretty fast guy, so I just wanted to be able to show that I can play.”

So far he’s done a good job of that.

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Walking with crutches and wearing an air cast on Monday was Jermaine McDaniel, who was praised for his play by Dyce earlier in camp and had a fumble recovery that helped lead to a touchdown by Crum on Saturday. The 24-year-old edge rusher from Dillon, S.C., isn’t expected to miss a lot of time. “I would say we’re pretty healthy in that I don’t think we have any long-term injuries,” said Dyce when asked how the team survived the Hamilton game. “Nicked up a little bit with a few guys, but nothing long term, so I’m very happy about that.” … Something else to be pleased about is the fact his offence committed exactly zero turnovers. “Probably the first thing that I talked to them about is focusing on not beating ourselves, and one of the biggest things that you can do in that situation is not turn over the ball,” said Dyce. “I’m very proud of the guys. While we had some opportunities where maybe our ball security wasn’t as great as it should be, nothing resulted in a turnover. The guys took care of the ball well and that was fantastic to see.” …  Monday’s practice was cut short 45 minutes by a heavy rain that hit TD Place while the Ottawa region was on a “Tornado Watch.” … The long-range forecast for Friday evening’s pre-season finale against the Cup champion Alouettes, when the Redblacks will be going with mostly regulars, is for sunny skies and a temperature of 18C.

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