John Clay: Newcomer on UK's D-line undergoing eventful transition to SEC

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 19, 2014 

Juco transfer C.J. Johnson may be having a tough transition to SEC football, but "he's going to give you everything he's got."

Newcomer C.J. Johnson may not yet be first team on Kentucky football's defensive line, but the junior-college transfer is a first-team talker.

In fact, if the 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior from Chambersburg, Pa., turns out to be half as effective on the field as he is entertaining off it, Mark Stoops and Co. have something.

After Friday morning's practice at the Nutter Training Center, Johnson afforded the media an update on his transition from juco to SEC.

"Right now, Regie Meant is the first guy up and I'm learning a lot off of him," Johnson said. "If you threw me in with that first string, I'd get all busted up."

Why would Johnson get all busted up? He was, after all, a four-star prospect from ASA Junior College in Brooklyn. 247Sports rated Johnson as the 20th-best junior-college prospect in the nation last season.

"Mostly, learning the plays," he said Friday. "I got the strength and the speed, so when I know what I'm doing, I'm pretty sound. But even Hercules got knocked over."

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being really ready, how close is Johnson to being an SEC defensive lineman?

"I'm probably at a six right now," he said, adding that he does OK with the defensive scheme until the staff starts making in-game adjustments. "When I look at the sideline and I see them pop-locking over there, I got to try and adjust on the field and know what I'm doing."

Pop-locking?

"You know how they be over there throwing up the signals," said Johnson, moving his arms up and down like the hip-hop dance.

Neal Brown isn't helping, either. UK's offensive coordinator runs a high-tempo offense, which doesn't give much time for the defense to figure out what in the world it is supposed to be doing.

"I've got to learn where to line up, and then they ain't huddling up and I'll be all messed up," Johnson said.

Some snaps, Johnson has made more contact with his defensive teammates than the combatants on offense. "A couple of plays, I ran into some people out there," he said.

In one practice, the defense was working on a particular technique which Johnson failed to realize had changed when the offense was on the opposite side of the field.

"I was shooting the A-gap and ran into the nose guard and the linebacker, messing up everything, tripping up everybody," he said.

Once Johnson gets it all down he'll be fine.

"He's going to give you everything he's got," said defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. "He doesn't argue with you. It's 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir.' He wants to be better."

There is just so much to think about right now. Johnson said that in junior-college if he didn't feel like going to class he could always "chill at my house." Now the Nutter Center feels like his house. He said he's at the facility from five or six in the morning until seven or eight o'clock at night.

"If they had beds, I wouldn't even go home," he said. "I want a dog; can't even get a dog because I'm never home."

Johnson isn't worried about his conditioning.

"I'm in condition when I know what I'm doing," Johnson said. "But you're running around like a fool, you're bumping into everybody, tripping over things and that takes a lot of your energy. Thinking takes a lot of energy."

And he knows adjusting to the athletic ability of D-I linemen is going to take time.

"If I can get my hands on them, I'm good, but when they get around me and they get their hands on me, it's a show," he said. "When we were doing seven-on-seven pass rush, I was killing them at first, but then I guess they figured out my moves and so now it's back to the drawing board. I'm getting all busted up."

Someone wanted to know which UK offensive lineman was giving Johnson the most trouble

"Gravity," he said. "I ain't got nobody to name, so I just go with gravity because I'm always down there with it."

The guess here is that won't be the case for long.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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