Derrick Johnson has been frustrating Chiefs fans ever since he was drafted. The former first round pick never seemed to live up to the expectations that came with his draft stock. Every year, just before the season, we heard talk that this was the do or die season for Johnson. The break out year never came.
Now it is the Chiefs who are frustrating Johnson. Todd Haley came to town in 2009 and viewed Johnson not as a first round pick loaded with potential. No, Haley viewed Johnson as just another linebacker. The new regime had no ties to any of the existing players on the roster and they showed it fast, cutting and demoting players left and right. Some demoted players, like receiver Dwayne Bowe, eventually worked their way back in to the starting lineup.
Johnson never did.
Still, Johnson went about his work in 2009, still believing he belonged on the field as a starter. He worked his way in to some defensive sub packages and often teamed with rookie Jovan Belcher for passing downs. He ended the season with a bang, picking off two passes in the finale against Denver, returning both for touchdowns.
A restricted free agent, Johnson was tendered at a 2nd round level by the Chiefs. He signed for the 2010 season and is practicing with the team. If a new labor agreement is signed, 2010 may very well be a do or die season for Johnson, not just to show is potential but to keep his job with the Chiefs.
Johnson is working hard in the offseason program and though he lined up with the 2nd team at the first round of OTA practices, DJ isn’t worried. Yet.
“Right now, nobody has a starting job,” Johnson told the Kansas City Star. “The (coaches are) more focused on (players) learning the defense. We’ve got a new coordinator. So it’s not a set team. That depth-chart stuff, that doesn’t come into play until training camp. It’s not a priority for the coaches right now. When we get to training camp, that’s a little different. That’s when we really separate the men from the boys.
“If we get to training camp and I’m working my butt off and staying healthy and I’m still not out there with the first team, then we can look at a problem. Right now, it’s not a problem at all.”
If Johnson spends another season in a limited role it is all but certain he will leave Kansas City as an unrestricted free agent following the season.
If he becomes a starter again and finally reaches those high expectations, he could stick around, especially of the Chiefs feel he is a worthy enough investment to resign.
One thing is certain, the Chiefs need more big plays at linebacker and as inconsistent as Johnson can be, he is the guy that can deliver those types of plays.
It’s been said before but this truly is put up or shut up time for Derrick Johnson. At least as a member of the Chiefs.
Can he get it done?