The gushing about the potential of BYU football’s 2014 secondary certainly didn’t end in spring. Even at Monday’s media day, players and coaches were talking about how things could be different if the cornerbacks and safeties end up being as good as some think they can be.
“It would be a great luxury for us,” Cougar head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “We haven’t ever based our defense on having guys that could cover single coverage. When that is possible, it adds one more element to an already dominant defense that makes it even more difficult to score on. It gives us a chance to dictate a little more.”
But as good as guys like seniors Craig Bills, Robertson Daniel and Skye PoVey and sophomore Dallin Leavitt have been (plus the potential of Trent Trammell, Kai Nacua and others), much of the excitement centers around having senior cornerback Jordan Johnson back on the field.
“We really missed Jordan Johnson last year,” BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell said. “He started every game his sophomore year for us and made a lot of plays for us, so having him coming back is going to be a big deal.”
It’s been 18 months since Johnson last stepped onto the gridiron for a game. A season-ending knee injury during 2013 fall camp meant he missed all of last year.
That makes it pretty easy for him to point to what he’s most excited about this fall.
“I’m looking forward to the first game of the season (at Connecticut),” Johnson said. “It’s coincidence that it happens to in my neck of the woods (Johnson is from Massachusetts). Just being able to be out there with my guys and play. This is my last year so it’s a little symbolic. It’s half-an-hour from where I grew up. It’s going to be fun.”
With knee injuries, getting fully healthy is always a concern, but Johnson said he’s confident with how his body has healed.
“Health-wise, I’m back,” he said. “I’m cleared to play and I’m just trying to maintain it. I’m doing rehab for preventative measures, but I’m ready to go.”
Johnson said it opened his eyes to have to sit out and watch the team compete without him.
“It makes you more grateful,” he said. “It was tough but I had people beside me who helped me. Being away from football for an entire year is a long time, but that’s finally over.”
He said he wanted to be out there, particularly when the team was struggling, but he said he feels a lot stronger mentally now.
Both Bills and Daniel said that having Johnson on the field will make a huge difference for the Cougar defense.
“The guy is a stud,” Bills said. “Right now, in seven-on-sevens and one-on-ones, his breaks look as clean as ever and he looks strong. I’m excited to see him come back and play. He was huge our sophomore year and made a ton of plays. Last year we missed him and I think it could’ve been different with him out there, with more consistency and experience. It will be fun to have him there to lead those cornerbacks.”
Daniel added: “He’s getting his confidence back. He’s wearing a brace but when the season comes, he’ll be regular Jordan, out there making plays.”
Johnson said defensive backfield looks good across the board through the offseason workouts.
“I’m seeing a lot of guys stepping up,” Johnson said. “Every year as a secondary, we are a close-knit group but it’s more so this year. When I was hurt, those guys were at my house, chilling, and I was on the sideline with them. I was their No. 1 cheerleader. Now being cleared and doing things, I feel we’re closer than in years past. It’s going to be fun and I just can’t wait.”
Daniel said just having Johnson putting in that effort helped the cornerbacks see him as a leader, as someone to look up to.
Howell said that Johnson brings a big lift with all of the attributes he brings to the field.
“He adds a completely different element of athleticism than anyone else on the team can really provide for us,” Howell said. “You can leave him by himself and he can handle things on his own out there in space.”
The expectations are high for Johnson and the other members of the defensive backfield. Now they say it’s time to do it on the field.
“It means nothing if we don’t do what we have to do,” Daniel said. “The excitement is all good, but we’re trying to win football games. We need to have fun, but to have fun we need to be dominating and winning football games. When we’re doing that, then I’ll tell you how excited I am.”