Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson led the Southeastern Conference in tackles last year as a sophomore, and this year, the Volunteers veteran could be on the 2014 NFL Draft radar if he chooses to turn pro early. Most, however, expect Johnson to return for his senior season. With scouts from the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and St. Louis Rams in attendance, how did Johnson fare against Alabama's offensive line? College Football 24/7 had the following observations:
Against the run: In short, Johnson struggled. Alabama right guard Anthony Steen beat him with sheer power on several plays, and right guard Arie Kouandjio wiped him out with a couple of legal cut blocks as well. Alabama halfback Jalston Fowler stood him up on a goal-line play for the first of three T.J. Yeldon 1-yard touchdown runs. Granted, the Tennessee defensive line didn't do much to help keep blockers off him, but Johnson basically spent the afternoon making flat-footed tackles for chain-moving gains rather than playing downhill. Johnson finished with a game-high 10 tackles, but the total was more a function of the UT defense's inability to get off the field than of Johnson's playmaking.
Best play against the run: On a third-quarter run by Kenyan Drake, Johnson took on left guard Arie Kouandjio head on and helped stop Drake for no gain. It was one of the few times all day, if not the only one, where Johnson made a play at the point of attack rather than downfield.
Worst play against the run:Only once all day did Johnson come free, unblocked, to penetrate the UA backfield, and when he did, he missed a tackle on Alabama's T .J. Yeldon on a third-quarter sweep that went around the left corner for a Crimson Tide touchdown.
Against the pass: Johnson dropped into zone coverage throughout the day against the pass, and with Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron looking to receivers more than tight ends over the middle, Johnson didn't have many balls thrown into his area. More often than not, Johnson found tight end Brian Vogler meandering into his zone, but McCarron didn't target Vogler all day.
Best moment in pass coverage: With 9:58 left in the game, Johnson made a nice play to strip Kevin Norwood for an apparent fumble on a pass completion over the middle, but officials ruled Norwood's forward progress had stopped before the ball came loose.
Worst moment in pass coverage: Just one play after Johnson's strip of Norwood was blown dead, he lost containment on Kenyan Drake on a pass out of the backfield and badly missed a tackle to allow a big gain. Drake nearly made Johnson miss two tackles on the same play, but Johnson managed to barely bring Drake down on his second chance.
Opposing quote on Johnson: "We knew going into that he was one of their best defensive players. We didn't really game plan for him but he made plays when he needed to. We made plays when we needed to, as well."
(On why UA's guards were assigned to Johnson more than the centers): "When we ran to a shade sometimes, the center would be on the shade (defensive tackle), and the guard would be on the linebacker."
- Alabama center Ryan Kelly