Crimson Tide safety Rashad Johnson sat down with a staff member for RollTideBama.com last week for an exclusive interview during the Senior Bowl.
What do you hope to show the NFL coaches and scouts this week?
I want to go out and show that I can be consistent and play at a high level the entire week. I want to have great practices every day. I don’t want to go out on Monday and have a good practice then fall off on Tuesday. I want to be consistent in what I do and consistent in my play all week. I want teams to know that if they draft me they are going to get a guy that is going to come to work every day and he’s the same guy no matter what.
How has Coach Saban prepared you for a career in the NFL?
He’s prepared me in a lot of different ways—mentally, physically, and emotionally.
When we are out on the field with him—the way he teaches us and coaches us—he’s so strict and so firm, he’s at you all the time.
That definitely makes you better able to control your emotions and go out and play the next play. And not only that, we did so many things on defense that it is just unbelievable. It was definitely and NFL-type defense in terms of what he had us doing. Physically we worked out hard every day and went hard every day in practice.
When you walked on at Alabama, did you ever think that you’d be playing in the Senior Bowl one day, and be looking at a likely first day selection into the NFL Draft?
When I walked on, playing in the Senior Bowl was not a thought at all, and being a first day pick was even farther off than being in the Senior Bowl.
No, neither one of those were thoughts of mine. It was basically just me going in and trying to help the team whichever way I could. It didn’t matter what it was.
I got a role on special teams and practiced as hard as I could, and that grew into the coaches having more confidence in me and giving me a bigger role to play on defense. As my roles got bigger, my goals got bigger, and it definitely worked out for the best.
Why were you so successful at Alabama, going from a walk-on running back to an All-American safety?
If I had to point to one thing it would just be hard work. I was just determined to be a good player and determined to do the right things no matter what it was. On the field, if a coach asked me to do something, I did it—no questions asked. I did it, and it helped me to be a better player. As I moved over to safety, I started to learn the game, learned how to play the position, learned how to study offenses, and I think that was the biggest thing in turning my career from a walk-on running back to an All-American safety.
One of the biggest performances of your career was the LSU game in Baton Rouge this past season where you clinched the win with your third interception of the game. You broke on that play before anyone else on the field, what did you see to make that play happen?
I had been playing in the game all day, and in the second half they had been doing that a lot. They were splitting out and throwing the comeback route, and getting big plays off of it. I had seen on film where they were doing it, but every time they did it, they’d also run the corner route, but they had not done it the entire game. The thought that went though my head was, it was third down and they have nothing to lose by taking a shot to the endzone–I believed that before the play even started.
On the snap, I saw him roll out and I was just looking for a receiver that was going up the field. I saw him, and I never slowed down, I knew the ball was going there the entire time and once he let it go it was just a chance to make a play on it.
What do you think will be the biggest learning curve for Justin Woodall and Mark Barron when it comes to quarterbacking the defense and coverage’s next season?
I think both of those guys have the skills to do it. Justin did a great job of learning the defense this year and he really understands it. Mark caught on—it took him a little while—but he caught on. It isn’t as much of a learning curve; it’s who is going to step up and be the vocal guy.
In that defense you have to have someone in the secondary that is vocal, and someone that will make the checks, even if they are not the right checks.
If you make a check, and everyone is one the same page, then you are playing the right defense. That’s better than people being all over the place in different defenses.
So it is going to be whoever steps up and puts the weight on their shoulders and decides, “Hey, I’m going to be the guy that makes the checks and let everyone depend on me and I’ll get it done.”
What was it like playing for a high energy guy like Kirby Smart?
I loved it. It was just like he was a player—a teammate—even though he was my position coach and he was teaching me day in and day out.
But when the game came around, he was one the field with you. I could hear his voice when I was out on the field, over everyone else in the stadium, over all the yelling and screaming from the fans.
When you make a big play, he’s the first person to run out on the field and greet you, and more excited than you are. It lets you enjoy doing what you do when you know that your coaches love the game and are so passionate about what they do.
You were elected team captain in both 2007 and 2008 by your teammates. That doesn’t happen often. What did that mean to you?
It meant a whole lot, especially last season as an underclassman. I wasn’t even on the list, and a guy raised his hand in front of everybody in a meeting and asked Coach if my name could be added to the list for voting.
That really meant a lot that my teammates felt that good about me and they way that I carried myself, and that I did the right things, and that I put the team first. To get it again as a senior, again means a lot.
I came in as a captain this season and just tried to be more vocal. I can’t wait to go to Bryant-Denny on A-Day and be able to put my hands back in the cement again. It’s definitely going to be a fun time.
What was your most memorable game or moment at Alabama?
The most memorable game would have to be the LSU game. The stadium was rocking the entire night; it was back and forth, back and forth. I was able to make some plays that put us over the top, and it really meant a lot that I was able to do everything that I could to help us win that game and clinch the SEC West.
How do you think Alabama will look next season?
I think they have a chance to be really good. They have some younger guys that will have to be playing again, and there’s a couple of starters will be replaced on offense, but there are some great recruits coming in and a bunch of great players that were playing behind those guys that are leaving.
They just have to focus on who’s going to take over and be the leader and say, “We’ve got a good team, now let’s all get to work and put it together.”
Is there a lighter side of Coach Saban you can share with us?
He is a down to earth person. People say he’s all hard and he’s all business, but if you get the chance to be around him as much as we are, you get to see the other side of him.
We sit around and laugh and joke with him. It was funny today, he was out on the field after practice and he came up to me and hugged me and shook my hand. He said, “I saw you out there slacking off, you know I wouldn’t have let your ass do that at our practice, right?”
It is just funny because I know how intense he is, and the practice we had today was nowhere near as intense as what I’m used to with him, so it was a breeze for me. But it is just great to have him in your corner.
He’s a great guy, and he let us all know that if we ever need anything to just give him a call, and it means a lot to us that we really and truly know that he meant it.