Monday, May 19, 2014
Burnt Orange Breakdown: Daje Johnson
By Max Olson
Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.
Can the new Texas coaches get the most out of Daje Johnson?
Recruitment rewind: Johnson was committed to TCU for 10 months and likely would've ended up playing boundary corner for the Horned Frogs. But he'd always wanted to be a Longhorn, and he committed on the spot when he got offered during his January official visit. The two-way star from nearby Pflugerville (Texas) Hendrickson scored 45 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons and put up a then-national-record SPARQ score of 146.5 at The Opening in 2011. He was sold by Texas coaches on the chance to be a true offensive weapon with multiple roles.
Career so far: There have been flashes of brilliance: Johnson's 84-yard touchdown run against Baylor in 2012, the 129 total yards in last year's opener, the 85-yard punt return TD against Oklahoma. There have also been immature setbacks, with three one-game suspensions in two years, including the Valero Alamo Bowl in December. The previous Texas staff had a difficult time finding ways to get the ball in Johnson's hands, but he still accounted for 808 total yards of offense on 94 touches in two seasons, and more than 1,300 yards when you include returns. Johnson spent most of 2013 working on his receiving skills but is still an all-purpose offensive weapon who's dangerous in the backfield.
Best-case scenario for 2014: The new coaching staff unlocks Johnson's De'Anthony Thomas-type potential. Everyone knows he has speed for days, but consistency has always been the issue. The new staff was fully invested in giving Johnson a fresh start and he's responded with responsibility. Get him in space and fully bought in this fall and you have an elite playmaker in the slot who can trick defenses on sweep and reverses, beat them deep on fly routes and dance around them on returns. On Johnson's best days, there aren't many like him in the Big 12.
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Worst-case scenario for 2014: One thing Charlie Strong absolutely will not tolerate is players skipping class and ignoring their academic duties. If Johnson slacks off in that department, he'll fall out of favor with this coaching staff quickly. And folks close to Johnson have always said that if you leave him on the sideline -- if you fail to give him a meaningful role in the offense -- you're just asking for him to get distracted or get in trouble. It would be an absolute shame to see Johnson's talent go to waste, and it's on him to take care of business and ensure he gets his opportunities.
Future expectations: Guys like Thomas and Tavon Austin have proven there's a place for multi-position offensive weapons in the NFL if you're good at it. To confine Johnson to kick and punt return duties would be a misuse of his diverse skill set. If he stays in good standing with the coaches and stays healthy -- an injury at BYU last year cost him a big chance to be the focal point of the offense -- Johnson should become a highlight machine and a national name.