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Defensive Do-It-All: Why Antonio Johnson Holds The Key For Texas A&M's Secondary

Antonio Johnson's role in the secondary should dictate what Texas A&M's defense looks like in 2022

Texas A&M's secondary could be its strongest asset in 2022. Safety Demani Richardson is set to return on the backend. The cornerback position now has an extensive list of names with experience for new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin to work with. 

All that is fine. The one that controls how the formation will look is junior Antonio Johnson. Now free to move to his natural position of safety, Johnson's role could dictate how the remainder of the secondary unfolds. 

Then again, he could be a chess piece on the move depending on the week. 

Antonio Johnson

"He's going to do a little bit of everything," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said last week of Johnson's role. "There's not much he can't do. He'll play nickel, safety, dime. We can move him around and match him up because he's such a tremendous football player." 

Johnson was the top safety prospect in the state of Missouri when coming out of East St.Louis in 2020. He quickly adapted to college speed under Mike Elko's direction and Fisher needed a nickel defender to replace the injured Devin Morris. 

Two years later, Johnson holds the key to how the remainder of the defense will unfold. Fisher has always put an emphasis on getting great players reps, and spring practice could present a more clear picture of the direction of where Johnson lines up. 

Starting safety Leon O'Neal is set to head to the NFL Draft. Richardson, who has started since midseason of 2019, remains a stalwart at strong safety entering his senior season as the vocal leader. 

Fisher said that Johnson's IQ and willingness to tackle should allow him to be interchangeable in coverage. That goes for most of the defensive backs as the game has translated more into matchups rather than schemes and formations. 

"When you can take your secondary and move them around a little bit, that's when you're really good in coverage," Fisher said. "It's become a game. When you find guys who can tackle, play nickel, play the run...that's the key." 

Johnson last season tallied 79 tackles and an interception in coverage. His 6-3 frame allows him to play the big nickel role when matching up against tight ends and receivers out of the backfield in certain coverages. 

This spring, the safety group's performance could play a factor in if Johnson remains inside. Fisher said he has been pleased with the younger talent stepping up, and credited sophomore Jardin Gilbert in his growth.

Gilbert, a Louisiana native, primarily served as O'Neal's backup last season. He recorded 13 total tackles and a pass breakup. 


"I've been very pleased with him and his development," Fisher said. "He's been outstanding." 

The Aggies will finish their first week of spring practice before leaving for spring break. They will return and prepare for the Maroon and White game on April 9. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Kyle Field.

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