Antonio Johnson likes to hit people. Naturally, what defensive back wouldn't?
The Texas A&M nickel defender held his own on the road against Colorado. On several plays he looked like a heat-seeking missile finding its target from the 12th Man defense.
Time and time again, No. 27 was behind the line of scrimmage, eliciting a reaction from fans on both sides at Empower Field. Johnson has worked hard on how to tackle since being hit with a targeting call against Arkansas last season.
"I've been really just working right technique, keeping my head up and not getting targeting," Johnson said this week.
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Johnson is in his second season in Aggieland, first as a full-time starter. The East St. Louis, Illinois native became an overnight sensation following his start against Tennessee to close out the 2020 regular season.
He followed up his performance with a three tackle, one pass breakup performance in the Orange Bowl victory over North Carolina.
Coming out of high school, Johnson was regarded as one of the top-five safeties in the country. So far, nearly every one of his reps has come from the nickel rather than being deep. Johnson doesn't see it as a problem. Instead, he sees a chance for more reps.
See the field, see the ball, make a play. Isn't that a defender's job?
"Wherever coach needs me to play in the defense, I need to help the defense win," Johnson said. "I'll play any position."
Two games into the new season, Johnson has been A&M's breakout defender. He currently leads the Aggies with 15 tackles, including nine in the come-from-behind victory over Colorado.
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Johnson was key to Colorado gaining just 54 yards, one first down and zero points in the second half. The defensive stand allowed the Aggies to pull it out, as Zach Calzada connected with Isaiah Spiller for an 18-yard touchdown that gave A&M the 10-7 win.
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"When we play with discipline and we play with intensity and purpose and understand the urgency, I think we're a really really good defensive football team," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Relaying on a backup in Calzada at quarterback, it may be up to the defense to be the difference-maker. The No. 7 Aggies (2-0) play host to New Mexico (2-0) Saturday at Kyle Field.
"It ain't no tune up, it's a game," Fisher laughed when asked about the Lobos. "Have you been following all the game across the country in the last two weeks? You better go bring your A-game and hopefully we can bring our A-game."
Johnson is one player, but his role allows him to do more than most. Nickel defenders must play the run, but also be quick enough to win in coverage. Their heads are always on a swivel, leaving little time for error.
Despite the narrow win over Colorado, the Aggies still control their destiny with SEC play looming. Johnson can help make the road smoother.
"We like to look at ourselves as one of the top defenses in the country," Johnson said. "In order to be that, you have to be able to go in hostile environments and play great defenses, even when the offense isn't going as well."
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