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Defensive tackle CJ Johnson talks pop-locking, running ‘like a fool’ and his struggle with gravity

By ASHLEY SCOBY

Junior college transfer and early enrollee CJ Johnson showed instant potential to be a fan favorite when he demonstrated his own judo moves during the 2014 Signing Day press conference. That streak of humor has not slowed down since the defensive tackle began spring practice, as he talks here about why he can’t get a dog, what “pop-locking” means in the context of coaching, and how “running around like a fool” can be tough on your conditioning.

On how he’s adjusting in practice so far…

At first I was just out here doing my JUCO style, sprinting everywhere but then once you sprint around and get knocked around a little bit, you realize you’ve got to slow down and work technique. It’s kind of frustrating because I’ve got to play slow and I feel like I ain’t making no plays but when you go back and watch film it actually looks like I’m doing a pretty good job on things that I know.

On the differences between JUCO and UK football…

Here, I’m over the tackle more. In junior college I was just playing straight three-technique. So it’s like I’m learning how to play the three and the four so it’s a big adjustment. I’ve got to play them both so I’ve got a lot more to learn.

On the rotation at defensive tackle…

Right now, Regie Meant is the first guy up, and I’m learning a lot off of him. … I love working behind him because right now it’s a learning experience. If they just throw me in there at first string, I’d get all busted up. I’m just trying to learn and Regie Meant is a great guy to learn behind.

On what he needs to do before the season starts…

Just got to keep focusing, watching film. Every time we have a meeting, make sure I focus in and get everything I can out of the meeting. When we come out to practice, make sure I get a lot of mental reps. I’m about to start working more on the weekends and coming out by myself or meeting with Regie again and really learning the plays and techniques of what I’ve got to do. I’ve just basically got to step it up, play a little harder, do more than what I’ve been doing.

On the importance of enrolling early so he could participate in spring practice…

It was big. It’s important. I can see now, if I hadn’t gotten here in the spring, I would have been redshirting it up. Spring is almost over and I still don’t know everything. It’s like every day they’re throwing up more game signs and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to look for on the sidelines.’ It’s a big learning experience, like I said, so I’m glad I’m here early.

On if playing at Kentucky is at a whole other level from junior college…

It definitely is. Speed is one of the big things. They’re running a lot of fast tempo. They don’t really hold up too much. That’s crazy. I’ve got to learn where to line up at and they ain’t huddling up? I be all messed up. … I done run into some people out there. I just be all over the place.

On how prepared he is for that tempo in terms of conditioning…

I’m conditioned when I know what I’m doing. When you’re running around like a fool, bumping into everybody, tripping over things, that takes a lot of energy. Thinking can take a lot of energy too. If you’re thinking about a lot when you’re trying to do a play, you’re going to be tired. That’s a lot of mental work. That’s brainwork.

On if he remembers a particular play that he messed up during practice…

We were working a lot on choke technique and I was basically shooting the A-gap. They were teaching me to shoot the A-gap on the choke technique and I didn’t realize when they go to the other side of the field, I was supposed to play the outside. I was so used to shooting the A-gap, I ran into the nose guard and the linebacker, just messing up everything, tripping up everybody. That’s what I do.

On how the coaches react when he messes up like that…

They get on me. They get on me hard. That’s how it should be though. They show me 100 times and then I get out there and mess it up because I’m thinking about something else. Like they say, they get on me while I’m here but they still know I’m learning. It’s all love on the outside, I’ve just got to learn how to take it to heart.

On if the adjustment has been harder than he thought it would be…

Definitely. Mostly it’s learning the plays. I’ve got the strength and speed so when I know what I’m doing, I’m pretty sound. But even Hercules can get knocked over.

On how prepared he is for SEC games, on a scale of 1 to 10…

I’m probably at like a 6 right now. I know most of the plays but it’s just when I look to the sideline and see them pop-locking over there. It’s like I’ve got to try to adjust on the field and know what I’m doing. A lot of plays I know but I’ve just got to basically learn where I’m going and where I’m at most of the time.

On what he means by ‘pop-locking’…

You know how they be over there throwing up the signals.

On the kind of size he faced off against in junior college…

It’s really not different. We had a lot of great size. Like my freshman year, #74 that started for ‘Bama, offensive guard – well he didn’t start the whole season, I think somebody got taken out. And then we had a guy that was about 6’6, 370, so we had some size at junior college but they didn’t move like these guys here. They’ve got the more athletic guys here and that’s a big adjustment. If I can get my hands on them, I’m good but when they get around me and then they get their hands on me, it’s a show.

On if a particular offensive lineman has made him look bad in practice so far…

Not really. If I mess up, then yeah. But I don’t count that. Delete that film. When we do 7-on-7 pass rush, I was killing them at first but then I guess they figured out my moves so now it’s back to the drawing board. I be getting all busted up.

On who the toughest offensive lineman he’s faced so far has been…

Gravity. I ain’t got nobody to name so I’ll just go with gravity because I’m always down there with it.

On how he has adjusted to UK off the field…

That is big, because at my junior college, if I wake up one morning and I don’t feel like going to class, I can just chill at the house. Here, this is my house. They have beds so I wouldn’t even go home because I’m only at home for about five hours and then I’m right back here. It’s a big transition because I’m always here. I want a dog. Can’t even get a dog because I’m never home. I get here at like 5, 6 in the morning and don’t even leave until about 8 o’clock. I’m always here. I’m tired of this place.

 

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2 comments

  1. Love SEC F-Ball

    Interesting interview – Interesting player.
    Liked his comments about Meant.
    Gook luck CJ – Keep working hard.

    1. larryvaught

      CJ Johnson is best interview on team

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