Chip Kelly has a few simple traits that his players must possess in order to succeed in his high octane, up tempo offense.
Speed, versatility, toughness and playmaking ability.
Sure, those adjectives would each describe running back LeSean McCoy, along with receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. However, there is one little known, diminutive receiver who could be poised to have the biggest break out of them all under the first-year NFL head coach.
Johnson, who made the Philadelphia Eagles roster last season as an undrafted free agent, showed flashes, primarily as a kick returner and has all of the skills necessary to make a quantum leap in his second year.
As a rookie, Johnson posted a strong 11.2 yards per punt return average, including a 98-yard touchdown return against the Dallas Cowboys and still made an impact as a receiver, posting 19 receptions for 256 yards and flourishing once Nick Foles stepped in at quarterback down the stretch.
“I’m kind of expecting to have a bigger year and help my team out more than last year,” Johnson said after practice during this spring’s OTA’s.
Sure, it’s set in stone that Jackson and Maclin will emerge as this team’s top two receivers, but neither have the security net of long-term job security. Maclin is in a contract year and Jackson’s deal is structured in a way that the Eagles can walk away from the six-year veteran if he fails to meet expectations, without taking a significant cap hit.
That leaves the door open for Johnson to seize the opportunity and take on a larger role in an offense that likely will have plenty of passes to go around.
“When I heard that Coach Kelly got hired,” Johnson beamed earlier this spring. “The one thing that just lit up in my mind was thinking, ‘Oh, man, it’s going to be a spread offense. He’s going to give guys the chance to have the ball in space, and I know that that works to my advantage.”
Weighing in at 5’8”, 170 pounds, Johnson hopes that by slightly bulking up this offseason he will be able to withstand the punishment both as a return man and in the offense.
With training camp set to begin in two weeks, Johnson will return kickoffs as the No. 1 returner, as well as handle punt return duties.
“I can carry the ball for this team, I can work in space, I can definitely go outside and play outside, return punts or kicks, whatever the team needs, I’m down to do,” he said. “I feel versatility is definitely a strength of mine.”
“Coach Kelly puts us in great positions to make plays. He has everybody doing things that they’re good at. It’s kind of like musical chairs. Everybody does different things.”
* All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.