Nico Johnson knows what's in front of him

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
8:00
AM ET
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Nico Johnson knows the opportunity that is in front of him.

He also knows no one is going to hand him a starting job in the NFL. That’s why he has adopted this mantra: “I have to earn my keep.”

The Kansas City rookie inside linebacker used the phrase four times in a 10-minute interview this week.

“That’s what I’m here for, to show the team how I can help them,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to get anything for free … I know the opportunity I have. I know a lot of guys in my position don’t get that opportunity.”

Johnson is currently running behind Akeem Jordan for a starting job. But the Alabama rookie has impressed the Chiefs’ coaching staff as soon as the offseason session began. It wouldn’t be a shock at all if Johnson becomes a starter early in his career.

Johnson said he has been taking advantage of being around players like Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. The rookie said he literally learns something new from the veterans every day. Tuesday’s lesson was a hand-work session with Hali.

“I watch every move those guys make,” Johnson said. “Before the preseason game last week, I watched how they stretched and how they warmed up. Any detail I can get from them, I can.”

Johnson was known as a selfless leader at Alabama and his instincts and intelligence have impressed coaches and teammates. The game is clearly not too big for the back-to-back national champion.

Johnson isn’t looking just to contribute as a rookie. He wants to become a complete player.

“At Alabama, I was known just as a run-stopper,” Johnson said. “I want to show I can play in pass coverage as well. I’m learning that from [Derrick Johnson]. … I’m just doing everything I can to earn my keep.”

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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