Trash Talk and All, Johnson Emerging on D-Line

C.J. Johnson has developed quite a reputation for his trash talk.

Fitting his personality, he doesn’t even try to deny it.

“I talk junk all the time,” Johnson said. “I think that’s like a confidence booster for me though, for real, when I’m out there talking trash.”

Johnson doesn’t restrict his talking to games either. The senior defensive tackle is just as likely to be running his mouth on the practice field as he is to opponents on Saturday.

The player mostly likely to be jawing at Johnson in return might surprise you.

“Pat, he likes to talk junk back,” Johnson said, referencing quarterback Patrick Towles. “He’ll stop a cadence and talk junk to you and then go right back to it.”

That makes for some frustrating moments for Johnson, because Towles wears a red jersey at practice preventing defenders from hitting him.

“He’ll run up the middle and we’ll all let him run and he’s talking trash the whole time,” Johnson said. “And it makes you mad because there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get mad and thud him up because you’ll get in trouble.”

Johnson, however, has had plenty of chances to hit opponents on game day.

He had a career-high six tackles in a loss against Florida two weeks ago and followed that up with an 11-tackle performance in a win over Missouri on Saturday. The latter effort earned him Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week honors.

“He had an excellent game on Saturday,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “He’s always had the ability. I think that he’s very quick-twitch, and he’s explosive. He was able to use his talent on Saturday to make plays.”

During his first season at UK after transferring from junior college, that talent wasn’t always so readily apparent. He had his moments in appearing in all 12 games, but only made 10 total tackles. More often, he was on the sideline.

“Like I always say, you learn a lot sitting on the bench,” Johnson said. “That was a learning curve for me because I learned I didn’t want to sit there no more. I had to figure out how to get up off of there.”

For Johnson, figuring out how to get off the bench meant figuring out his assignments. He’s there now.

“He’s playing with more confidence because he understands what to do,” defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh said. “And when a guy understands what to do, he can play faster.”

With Johnson, an agile 6-foot-3, 300 pounder, playing up to his potential, UK has a versatile weapon able to do much more than rush the quarterback on passing downs.

“You have the ability to be able to move some different packages around, rest some different guys, but you can also get him in there to give you some third-down stuff and on first and second down he’s able to get in there and rush,” Brumbaugh said. “It’s been very helpful.”

Eleven tackles certainly qualifies as helpful, though Johnson isn’t resting on his laurels.

“I don’t think about it at all,” Johnson said. “I only think about trying to have a big game next game. If I had 11 tackles this games, I’m trying to have at least about 13 the next.”