Patriots player Sony Michel made a little personal history on Sunday. On second-and-four in the third quarter, Michel went outside right, stutter-stepped, before exploding upfield for 38 yards, his longest run of his career.
Just eight New England plays later, Michel went outside left, and sprinted through a gaping hole untouched. He was tackled 48 yards later, smashing his personal record by 10 yards.
On both runs, Jakob Johnson helped clear the way for Michel.
There’s a lot of credit to go around for the running game’s big afternoon. The offensive line has bullied two of three opponents. Praise also goes to offensive line coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillio. It’s daunting for them to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Dante Scarnecchia, but they seem to be doing a great job in 2020.
For the moment though, the 6-3 255-pound fulback deserves a few minutes with his name in lights. Johnson took an interesting path to the NFL, and now is clearing paths for the running backs that get the glory.
Johnson beat long odds to make it on a NFL roster. He first played linebacker for the Stuttgart Scorpions, a U19 team in Germany. That league was no competition for Johnson, so he moved to Jacksonville, Florida to pursue his NFL dream.
The decision led to a scholarship with the University of Tennessee. After his freshman year, Johnson switched positions to tight end for the Volunteers. After going undrafted in 2018, Johnson went back to his hometown and played for the Scorpions in the German Football League.
Johnson did well as a tight end, catching 43 passes for 474 yards and four touchdowns. That season helped Johnson get into the International Player Pathway Program.
The IPP is an NFL initiative to grow the sport internationally. It gives one division every year the opportunity to sign an exempted international player and keep him on the practice squad as an eleventh player.
Patriots head coach Belichick not convinced by Johnson initially
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wasn’t very interested. He didn’t know much about the four IPP prospects, but a phone call with then-Tennessee coach Butch Jones swayed Belichick. As said to Patriots Wire:
“He was not on our radar,” Belichick said Monday. I don’t think we would have ever signed him. And when the players were kind of listed, there were a group of players that fell into this category, and we looked at that group. It was kind of like, ‘Is there anybody here you want?’ And so, based on some research and follow-up at Tennessee, really Butch [Jones] recommended him to me and we didn’t really know much about the other guys. I can’t say that we were excited to have him, but based on what Butch said, you know, felt like he was a good player to work with, would work hard, would really try to get better, was a good teammate and all of those things that he had showed at Tennessee.”
Johnson busted his hump during training camp and went from the practice squad to active roster. And after James Develin went on injured reserve, Johnson replaced the seven-year veteran.
Johnson’s story hasn’t been a fairy tale. He played in four games before he was placed on injured reserves with a shoulder injury. Coming into 2020, Johnson’s spot on the roster wasn’t guaranteed. Free agent FB Dan Vitale was signed away from the Green Bay Packers. New England also drafted two tight ends.
But Vitale opted out of playing the 2020 season. And the rookie tight ends are, well, rookies. They have some learning to do to earn the coaches’ trust.
Go ahead and say Johnson got the job via default. He hasn’t done anything to lose it. Johnson was the lead blocker on two of QB Cam Newton’s touchdown runs against the Seattle Seahawks. And Johnson caught a score, becoming the first IPP to score a touchdown.
Nothing was given to Johnson. As if making the roster wasn’t hard enough, he plays fully aware of the standards set by Develin and Rob Gronkowski, both great blockers when they played for the Patriots.
If we keep hearing Michel’s and Newton’s name called this season, that probably means Johnson is quietly maintaining that standard for the Patriots.
Questions? Comments? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @NE_Arena on Twitter.Published 04 Oct 2020, 11:39 IST