There's no such thing as a moral loss but the Jacksonville Jaguars should most definitely be intrigued about the talent rookie Antonio Johnson has flashed the past two weeks. The rookie out of Texas A&M is making the most out of his chances, and proving that he shouldn't have slid to Round 5 in this year's draft.
Johnson allowed no receptions on three targets in the loss to the Cleveland Browns. He also forced a fumble that was promptly recovered by fellow rookie Tyler Lacy. Although it's a limited sample, defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell had high praise for the East St. Louis, Illinois native coming off heading into Week 15.
"Tony did a really good job, continues to improve, and every opportunity he gets, he seems to flash," Caldwell told the media Thursday. "He made a great play late in the game, breaking the pass and the pressure. He got the sack. He's been able to step up, the game isn't too big for him. He understands he plays well. He tackles well and he can cover, so it's a variety of different talents that he's been able to use."
Caldwell goes on to say that he's made the most of his chances and has most definitely earned more playing time moving forward," Oh definitely. When you make plays and are given opportunities, if we're able to give him more snaps, we'll look for multiple ways to get him out there on the field."
Listed as a safety, the 6-foot-3 Johnson often lined up at nickel in college, something that's carried over into the NFL, playing 33 of his 40 defensive snaps the past two games in the slot. Caldwell later added that the first-year defensive back gives the Jaguars three options to man the slot.
"It's hard to find the nickel because you want someone that can cover the small guys can help you out in the run game, can blitz off the edge. And we have like three guys that can carry that role. Tre [Herndon] does a great job of covering in there being real savvy, and Greg Junior has some plays that he's been able to make. You see Antonio getting an opportunity coming in there, blitzing off the edge, fitting in the run, and covering guys. It's good to see the young guys step up when they are given the chance," Caldwell said.
The Jaguars must keep giving Antonio Johnson playing time moving forward
Projected to go late in the first round, or early in the second, Johnson lasted until the fifth, where the Jags picked him 160th overall. He's one of two late-round selections who've had flashed for the Jaguars during their two-game losing streak.
The other is wide receiver Parker Washington, who's stepped in for Christian Kirk, hauling in a combined eight receptions for 81 yards in Week 13 and 14. With Kirk expected to miss time after undergoing core surgery, Washington will see extended playing time the rest of the season.
Both Johnson and Washington only got playing time because injuries pressed them onto the field. Coincidentally, they were inactives early in the season but have proven the last two weeks that they should've gotten a chance soon. In particular, Johnson's versatility could be of use on defense but given that Tre Herndon and Andre Cisco are ahead of him on the depth chart, he hasn't gotten extensive playing time.
Regardless of when Herndon and Cisco return to the lineup, the Jaguars must continue to lean on Johnson. So far, it's paid dividends and the more he plays, the better he will get. Also, expanding his playing time allows the team's brass to evaluate him, and potentially consider him for a bigger role next year.
Antonio Johnson is proving that you don't have to be an early-round pick to contribute, and if he keeps making plays against the Baltimore Ravens, it will be hard for the Jacksonville Jaguars to justify not giving him ample playing time.