Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub (8) is pressured by Detroit Lions defensive end George Johnson (68) during a NFL preseason football game on Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) (Ben Margot / AP)
Detroit — In a group of defensive linemen that includes Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley, it’s sometimes difficult to stand out.
It’s even harder for a fringe player who’s trying to make the final 53-man roster in one of the Lions’ deepest positions groups.
But defensive end George Johnson is making coaches notice, with another high-energy effort in Friday’s 13-12 preseason win over the Jaguars at Ford Field.
Johnson had a sack, two tackles and two quarterback hurries, contributing to the defensive pressure that held the Jaguars to a touchdown and two field goals. In training camp and through three preseason games, Johnson has made an impression and is looking to move up the depth chart with his performances.
“That’s one thing I’m trying to do. Coaches keep coming up to me and telling me they’re impressed with me and to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I want to make it hard for them to cut me.”
In his third season, Johnson hasn’t been able to stick on an NFL roster, joining the Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010. He bounced around between the Bucs’ and Vikings’ practice squads and has played in 11 games, with seven total tackles in his career.
He’s looking to secure a role with the Lions where he can add to that resume.
“We hadn’t been getting a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We had six sacks, although Tahir (Whitehead) had three of them, but nevertheless a sack is a sack.”
Johnson’s hard work in practice is starting to pay dividends, though he credits the coaches for the progress he’s making.
“It’s really not me; it’s the coaches. They put us in a great position to actually get these sacks,” Johnson said. “We worked on it all week, trying to get off the ball, try to get to the edge, try to beat them inside when they don’t give us the edge. We just tried to concentrate on that.”
Johnson knows all too well that one performance doesn’t guarantee a spot on the final roster, but he’s working on his consistency to make his case for a spot stronger.
“You never really know what (the coaches) are thinking upstairs, so I’m hoping I made a really good impression on them tonight,” he said. “They said this was a really important game, so I made sure I put my best foot forward.”
Johnson seemed happy with his performance, beaming a smile in the locker room after the game. At least for one night, he could be happy, but it was back to work for practice on Saturday to break down the game tape and get ready for the final preseason game at the Bills next week.
“Tomorrow might be a different story when I watch the tape. Tomorrow might be something bad and make me upset. We’ll just see when the tape comes around,” he said. “I’ll sleep with the smile. You can’t just leave off the field thinking about what happened. You have to come off the field knowing you did your best and put your best foot forward.”