JACKSONVILLE – This is a good time, a new time.
And while Jaguars rookie safety Antonio Johnson said this is a special time for realizing the next step of his football dream, it's mostly a time for work. And improvement.
And a time for getting used to life – and future roles in the NFL.
"It's really about learning the defense," Johnson said this past week during 2023 Jaguars rookie minicamp at TIAA Bank Field. "I'm learning different spots. It's really about being able to do whatever I can to help the team."
Johnson, a safety projected by some early in the pre-draft process as a potential Day 1 or Day 2 selection, was selected by the Jaguars No. 160 overall. Jaguars assistant general manager Ethan Waugh during '23 rookie minicamp said he was "a little bit surprised" Johnson was available in Round 5, adding:
"I think as you get into that range in the draft, teams kind of diverge a little bit on what they need to fill out their rosters. Some players kind of slip a little bit and you end up getting a good bargain on a guy."
Waugh added of Johnson: "He's a long player. He's very tall. He's lean, got long arms, covers ground and is physical. He's a physical tackler."
Johnson (6-feet-2, 198 pounds), who played three seasons at Texas A&M, registered 164 career tackles with 96 solos. He registered 14 tackles for loss, an interception and seven passes defensed in college, and indeed was known for his physicality.
"I think I just love the aggressiveness about the game," he said. "I always think about it like it is either me or him and I refuse for it to be me. That's just the mentality I bring to every game, every tackle I try to make. I just love to hit hard, love to play the game, love to fly around the field."
Johnson, who played extensively in the slot in his final two collegiate seasons, registered 71 tackles with five tackles for loss in 2022. He was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection this past season.
"He was a safety in how they play the defense," Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke said. "He wasn't man covering a lot of people in the slot. He dropped down, more of a box-type guy. He's a high- character, tough guy, great tackler – and a really good special teams guy."
Johnson during this past weekend’s rookie minicamp discussed his transition to the NFL, saying: "Being physical is big part of my game.
"Being out here in no pads, I'm really able to really work on my footwork and my technique in man coverage, my zone drops," he said. "It's a plus for me because everybody knows me for my physicality, but I'm able to showcase other things. I haven't played a lot of deep zones. I'm able to showcase that as well.
"I'm knocking some of the rust off, getting back on the field, running around and learning the defense."
Added Johnson, "It could have been to any other 31 teams, but God chose me to be here. They're going to get the best of me every time I'm out there."
That continues this week as Johnson and the rest of the Jaguars' 13-member '23 draft class – as well as 10 collegiate free agents – begin working with Jaguars veterans during the '23 offseason program. Phase 3 of the program begins next week when the team begins organized team activities.
"It's crazy," Johnson said. "Every time I walk out here I'm, 'Man, I'm really here.' It's a dream come true, for sure. We're just getting to know each other in our different play styles. It's a grind, it's a process and we're doing this together. It's kind of like a brotherhood now because going through it together so we understand each other, all process right now. So, I feel like it's going really well.
"I'm looking forward to learning from the veterans, being around them to actually see like the pace of the game and getting adjusted to it.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing with the best."
View top photos of Jaguars players throughout rookie minicamp practice at TIAA Bank Field.