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When it Comes to Special Teams Just Say Kyron Johnson

The Eagles' rookie LB wants to be a difference-maker in the third phase

PHILADELPHIA - If you look too hard, sometimes you can miss an obvious answer.

That describes the fit of Kyron Johnson with the Philadelphia Eagles, the undersized 6-foot-1, 231-pound linebacker out of Kansas drafted in the sixth round last month.

The first mistake is focusing on defense where many scouts projected Johnson as an off-ball LB in the pros because of his size deficiencies even though he was more effective at Kansas as an edge rusher and caught the Eagles' eye at the Senior Bowl by giving Trevor Penning, a first-round pick by New Orleans, fits in one-on-one pass-rushing drills.

It would be nice if Johnson turned into a Haason Reddick-like player down the road as a hybrid SAM linebacker/edge rusher but the early goal in Philadelphia is using Johnson’s 4.4 speed to help special teams coverage units that struggled at times in 2021.

In Eagles' recent history, think Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, or even Rudy Ford. Philadelphia believes Johnson can be a difference-maker in the third phase.

“He was a captain and 17 special teams tackles,” GM Howie Roseman noted after selecting Johnson.

“Excellent special teams player," vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl added. "Howie just said, 17 tackles there. You see the speed, effort, and physicality covering kicks.”

Johnson himself is keenly aware of where his impact is supposed to come.

“I'm gonna say, for the most part, I know, like on all special teams, I'm gonna be on all that because like that's like a key component for me when it comes to football,” Johnson said as the Eagles kicked off their rookie camp on Friday at the NovaCare Complex.

It’s almost natural to Johnson because he’s been excelling there since high school.

“[Special teams] is just always been something I've just been used to since I was like in the ninth grade,” Johnson said. “And so it was just like, ever since the ninth grade. Every special teams that I've been [on], I've always been that menace and so I want to wreak havoc.”

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Johnson also realizes the importance of the often-forgotten part of football until the hidden yardage on game day proves to be the difference.

“I want to let people know special teams isn’t just some stuff you just blow off, Johnson said. “It is actually the main component when it comes to offense and defense is that is the third one that actually puts everything together.”

Impacting games on special teams is never going to be as glamorous as throwing a game-winning touchdown or stopping one with a strip-sack but when a Maragos isn’t around or Ford isn’t buzzing in a punt returner’s face, it’s noticeable.

For Johnson, the goal is even higher than that.

New England’s Matthew Slater has defined an NFL generation on special teams with 10 Pro Bowl berths and Johnson wants to be next in line.

“Special teams is the main thing because that's my goal to just like be this number one special-teamer,” said Johnson. “The dude that you see flying down like a bullet. Like I want to be that dude that everybody knows.

“When it comes to special teams just say, Kyron Johnson.”

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-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen