PHILADELPHIA – Kerryon Johnson can pass block and he can catch, two traits that can sometimes be overlooked by fans for a player with the title of running back.
The new addition to the Eagles backfield is also a fan of Jalen Hurts and became the second player in the last two weeks to say that he is glad the quarterback is now on his team.
LSU’s JaCoby Stevens said it after he was selected in the sixth round on May 1, and Johnson piled on during a videoconference on Tuesday afternoon.
“A guy like Jalen, first of all, I get to play with him and not against him anymore,” said Johnson. “He was hell to play against. Awesome guy, awesome leader. For one, I’m happy for that.”
Johnson expounded on Hurts later when questioned by SI.com Eagle Maven about his recollections of him when they saw each other on the field during the heated in-state rivalry game between Auburn and Alabama.
“One thing you gotta know about Jalen Hurts is just how strong he is,” said Johnson. “This dude, when he was in college, when he was in high school actually, he was squatting like 450 pounds or something like that. For a quarterback, which is almost insane.
“So, I remember him coming out … this was like a year before Tua came out, right? And I remember linebackers were coming through being like, ‘Hey, that’s like tackling a running back, or a fullback.’ I remember them saying that.
“He’s always been a fantastic athlete. He’s always been a great competitor. So, for me, that’s what rings home. Those are the type of guys I like to play with.”
Johnson was released last week by the Detroit Lions, who have a new coaching staff led by rookie head coach Dan Campbell.
He was quickly claimed by the Eagles, giving new head coach Nick Sirianni and his RB coach Jemal Singleton eight rostered running backs to sift through when the practice ball begins rolling later this month with OTAs.
“My expectation is to compete,” said Johnson. “I don’t think having a crowded room full of talented guys is ever an issue. All that’s going to do is make every single one of us perform at our best, it’s going to give us the best product in the end goal on the field and it’s going to make every single player better whether they’re here or not.
“That’s all you can ask for as a player in this league is be your best self and make the others around you better. I feel this room is going to do that.”
What could separate Johnson in his bid to be one of the three or four, or maybe five, RBs that will be kept at summer’s end is the ability to catch and block.
Johnson has collected 61 receptions for 527 yards and three touchdowns since entering the league as a second-round pick of the Lions, the 43rd player taken overall in 2018.
“I’ve always been a pretty decent pass catcher,” he said. “That goes back to high school when I played receiver. I had a coach in high school, offensive coordinator, who made sure that you weren’t just a one-position guy. He was preparing us for the next level and the level after that. He always preached that. We always worked on that. And that just kind of carried over.”
Boston Scott won’t take that challenge lying down. A pretty good pass catcher in his own right, Scott has 49 catches the last two seasons for 416 yards and a score. Miles Sanders was a good pass-catcher as a rookie, but it was a skill he struggled with in his sophomore season with the Eagles.
As for pass blocking, none of the current Eagles backs did a very good job with it last year. Johnson, though, is considered one of the best in the business at doing it, and it’s a skill set that did not come easily.
Johnson said he and his RB coach at Auburn, Tom Horton, worked on it regularly, every day during fall camp, throughout the offseason, then at least once a week in-season.
“Definitely did not come natural,” he said. “.That’s something that every running back has to want to do…going against the linebackers, practicing different moves, practice what they’re thinking, practicing how we should set, and I feel like it just translated over and I just kept getting better and better at it over the years.
“So, now I’ve kind of got a reputation I have to live up to which is excellent which means I have to come with it every single day. Linebackers and people blitzing are going to start noticing it as well and they’re going to start giving extra effort to beat me and I’ve got to keep that up.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.