Rams have safety in numbers with John Johnson leading group



The Chicago Bears had a top 10 defense in 2017, and one that ranked first in 2018. Last season, the Denver Broncos defense ranked 10th.

Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley was an assistant for those teams. Asked Thursday how Staley plans to deploy Rams safeties this season, fourth-year pro John Johnson was quick to respond.

“I think we have better guys on defense than he had in both of those places,” Johnson said during a videoconference with reporters. “So just picture what they were doing with better guys.”

Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, a midseason acquisition in 2019, is the undisputed star of the Rams secondary. But Johnson is ascending.

At least he was before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery last season.

Johnson was a third-round draft pick in 2017. In his second season, he started at strong safety and intercepted five passes, including one in the NFC Championship game that set up the game-winning field goal.

In 2019, Johnson started alongside veteran Eric Weddle and intercepted two passes in the first five games. But he was injured during a mid-October 20-7 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers at the Coliseum. Johnson initially tried to play through the pain, but eventually was forced to leave the game. He underwent surgery and spent the rest of the season on the injured list.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced NFL teams to conduct virtual offseason programs, so Johnson has been thrilled to finally be back on the field with teammates for training camp.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time,” he said, adding, “getting out there, running around being with my boys is great.”

The Rams have been in an acclimation phase for nearly two weeks, and they are gearing up for the start of practices Tuesday.

Weddle retired after last season, so Johnson will start opposite Taylor Rapp. The second-year pro started 10 games in place of Johnson last season. He intercepted two passes.

“I just see us being the best safety tandem in the league,” Johnson said. “Anything short of that is a disappointment.”

The Rams safety corps also includes second-year pro Nick Scott and rookies Terrell Burgess and Jordan Fuller. The Rams drafted Burgess in the third round, Fuller in the sixth.

“They came in ready to go,” Johnson said. “Great athletes. You can move them around so I’m excited for their future.”

Johnson, 24, is one of several players in the final year of their rookie contracts. Ramsey, in line for a record-breaking extension, is the main priority. But Johnson, receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds and tight end Gerald Everett also are candidates for new deals.

“It’s always really good to be in a position where you’re not concerned that you have players you want to pay,” general manager Les Snead said when players began reporting to training camp. “So, that’s the good thing. But you definitely have to work through the scenarios.”

Johnson did not sound concerned.

“I just got to put some good tape out there,” he said, “and the rest will take care of itself.”





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