George Johnson pressures Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub. Johnson, a fill-in, had 2.5 sacks in exhibitions. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)
With defensive ends Jason Jones and Ziggy Ansah still recovering from injuries, the Lions picked up George Johnson just to fill in during the offseason program.
Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek told him that, Johnson said.
“He said they brought me in as a guy to be a camp body … just to fill in basically,” Johnson said earlier this week.
He has gone from filler to thriller for the Lions, and in the four exhibition games, he had nine tackles and 2½ sacks, both of which led all defensive linemen, as well as a forced fumble. With final cuts due by 4 p.m. Saturday, Johnson has plenty of reason to feel safe as he’s likely played his way onto the 53-man roster.
“He’s done well,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think he did a good job of putting pressure on the passer week after week. He’s certainly given us a pretty good edge rusher that can certainly collapse the pocket when he doesn’t just beat his man outright, and he does a nice job against the run as well.”
An undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2010, Johnson bounced between the practice squad and active roster with the Buccaneers and Vikings his first three seasons. He played four games for Tampa Bay in 2011 and five games in 2012, totaling seven sacks. In Minnesota, he played two games in 2012 with no statistics and none in 2013 before being released in October.
Johnson left Minnesota at 285 pounds, up significantly from the 268 pounds he weighed at the combine in 2010, and said he “felt slow, sluggish and out of breath a lot of the time.”
During his time away from the NFL, Johnson transformed his body and arrived in Detroit at 260 pounds. He is listed at 263.
“He’s probably at his natural weight, and I think as a result of that you’re seeing a more effective George,” Caldwell said.
For many players, being told they were a camp body would provide extra motivation. Johnson said it gave him a little bit of an edge, but he thought he would press if he thought about it too much.
“I just already had the mindset that when I came in, I’m going to give it all I got,” he said. “I’m not going to give up. I’m going to give 100 percent effort every time. That was my whole mindset.
“I wasn’t going to let them saying I’m a camp body distract me from going in and doing what I really wanted to do.”
Throughout training camp and into the exhibition games, Johnson said coaches have praised his play. In addition to his defensive numbers, he’s been a regular on special teams.
Now, he just has to wait to see if all that hard work will keep him in Detroit.
“They can say one thing, and upstairs they’re saying something else,” he said. “I don’t even really think about it too much.”
Fuller, Couplin also wait
The waiting game can be difficult for many players on the roster bubble. Some Lions players even took to Twitter Friday to say that they were simply waiting for a decision.
Wide receiver Corey Fuller, who’s competing for one of the last wide receiver spots, went through the process last year and was ultimately cut. This year, he’ll be waiting with his girlfriend at Caesars Hotel and Casino in Windsor.
“I’m actually going to come back (to Detroit) on Saturday just in case they do try to get rid of me,” Fuller said. “I’m not going to stress about it, not going to think about it too much.”
Jerome Couplin, an undrafted rookie safety who’s also on the bubble, said he was going back home to Maryland.
“My birthday is Sunday, so I’ll probably just go home and relax,” he said.
Couplin will find out Saturday just how much he can celebrate this year.