Who is this new addition who supplanted DeAngelo Hall so much so that he was released mid-way through the season last year? Where did he come from? How did he get on the 2008 Raiders squad? And lastly, how is he so good?
All questions which I had to ask myself after the second half of the 2008 season. Questions which I know other fans were asking as well. Believe me when I say that information about this guy doesn't just fall out of the sky. So allow me to try to answer some of them.
A two year letter winner in college at Louisville after transferring from Blinn Junior College (Brenham, Texas). He played in 13 games in his senior year, and started seven of his last eight contests. With 44 total tackles (32 solo), one tackle for loss and seven passes defensed, he was not particularlly impressive.
However, he also stood out on a special teams unit that ranked among the nations best that year. Also, he was honorable mention (enter Cris Carter: "honorable mention, HONERABLE MENTION!") junior college All-America choice following his sophomore season at Blinn JC where he had seven interceptions and a pair of blocked field goals in 2000.
In high school he also earned three letters in track and field, making regionals in the 200, 4x100, long jump and triple jump. You know this is the sole reason Al Davis gave him a recent 4 year contract for $15.4 million with a $4 million signing bonus.
His pro career, until now, has been as a journeyman. After the '03 season, he was placed on the PUP (physically unable to preform) list with a leg injury and inactive in '04 .
In '05 he signed with the St. Louis Rams. He played in 14 games and started one at cornerback. He scored one kickoff return touchdown, had 24 tackles and one forced fumble and fumble recovery.
In '07 he played in 13 games and had 13 tackles. He had two passes defensed at CB. So why the sudden outburst of productivity late in the '08 campaign where he registered 35 tackles, 12 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, and a forced fumble?
Basically, until his blossoming last year, he was an above average special teams player. The Raiders definately have an eye for good special teams players, with one of the best special teams units in the NFL today. There's no doubt that he was brought in to play special teams.
After DeAngelo Hall was paid $8 million for eight games ($7 million signing bonus, $1 million base salary), and Atlanta received a 2nd and 5th round draft pick, crazy old Al Davis released the pro-bowl corner who would not restructure a 7 year $72 million contract.
It was said that Hall couldn't hang in the Raiders man-to-man scheme. Nnamdi Asomugha said that Hall wasn't given time to adjust. He believed, at the time, that the move was detrimental to the team and the locker room atmosphere.
“You have to do something drastic, something that’s going to impact your football team,” then interum head coach Tom Cable said. "We have good players on this team, as I’ve said before, so we’re about being a team, about being one, about doing what the coaches ask you to do and going out and playing and improving. So something needed to be done and that was the decision that was made.”
Cable went on to say, “Chris Johnson we believe was the third best corner here, and at some point it became he was the second best corner here,” Cable said. “That facilitated the ability to make this decision the way we have.”
And break out the champaigne for the breakout cornerback, former situational player and special teams standout, Chris Johnson. A 6 year pro who stepped into a situation that had All-Pro Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha shaking his head.
"I'm obviously disappointed, I don't agree with what happened. I don't agree with what's going on. But I am just a player so I can't speak on it. I don't make the decisions. All I can do is play but I don't agree with what happened at all" Asomugha said.
And also this: "There's been some things that have been going on, some shakeups, that I haven't agreed with," Asomugha said. "Like I said, I'm not allowed to speak on it because we're just supposed to shut up and play. But you ask me if I agree with it? I don't agree with it...I do know that guys, after seeing that, it’s not one of those things that is making guys go out and want to play harder. It’s one of things that guys are looking like, ‘I could be next, so let me not make a mistake.’ That’s a difficult thing to play with on Sundays.”
Johnson actually started at cornerback in a September 28th, 2008 game against the San Diego Chargers, in which he recorded the first interception of his NFL career. The real impact of Johnson was felt later in the season, however, in a game against the Dophins in which he recorded nine solo tackles.
He started the next game against rival Denver on November 20th, 2008. Denver had torched Hall in the season opener, Johnson held his ground against Jay Cutler and a sound passing attack in Denver. A game Oakland won 31-10.
Johnson held his own for the remainder of the year as well. His second career interception against Kansas City the next week he returned 44 yards. Five tackles and an assist with a tipped pass against New England. Three tackles, three tipped passes and an interception against the Texans. Andre Johnson was held to two catches against the Raiders cornerbacks. He had four tackles and a tipped pass against Tampa Bay to end the season.
In fact, he played so well, he was ranked the seventh-best free-agent cornerback by walterfootball.com. Phillip Buchanon was ranked tenth, DeAngelo Hall was eleventh. 24 of his 35 tackles came in the last seven games of the year.
One of my favorite writers, LDizzle from http://tfdssports.com/ wrote; "CJ was nothing short of amazing...he was a thorn in the side of the opposing quaterbacks as well as the receiver's he was covering." He started eight games and made TFSD's baller list 5 times.
Another of my favorite writers, Patrick Patterson of the San Francisco examiner said, "Johnson came out of nowhere to play like a madman when he took over for the departed DeAngelo Hall." He also added, "Chris Johnson had a stellar half season."
Jerry McDonald, an NFL writer said, "[Johnson] was credited by owner Al Davis with being the sole reason for a reversal of fortune against the Denver Broncos"
So many people are talking highly of Johnson after a stunning finish. My hope is that he can continue the trend. What an underdog story it makes. It should inspire people to think that a guy who has so little to play for can stick it out and become half of one of the top cornerback tandums going into 2009.