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Safety John Johnson III ready to quarterback Rams defense

Boston College product will serve as defensive play caller on field

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Elected a captain for the first time in his NFL career, Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson III will likely wear the green dot on his helmet as the defensive play caller on defense.

The added level of leadership shows the growth the Boston College product has gone through with the organization as he enters his fourth season in the NFL.

Because new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley plays so much nickel and dime defense, it makes sense to entrust Johnson to make the calls, along with the fact that he can see the entire field from his free safety position.

“I’ve always felt like the safety should be like the quarterback of the defense,” Johnson said. “Oftentimes it's the linebacker, the middle linebacker. But just for me personally, you know, high school, college, I was always the leader in the back of the defense. So being with Coach Staley, him putting that emphasis on the safety play and us being in the center is huge. And I love it. With my personality, I feel like it's a perfect fit.”

Johnson learned from one of the best in the business. He played alongside former Pro Bowler Eric Weddle last season, who served as the defensive play caller for the Rams in 2019.

Johnson said playing alongside Weddle helped him become a better communicator on the field and a more of a student of the game off of it.

“It's just being a reflection of the coordinator,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to understand what he wants to do, what he likes to do and just working smart instead of working hard. Everybody's going to give a hundred percent effort, but if you can find ways to simplify the game, it makes you play a lot faster.

“That's one thing that Eric gave to me, is just certain techniques that I can see something and react faster than I would in the past. Just like little tips and stuff, releasing stems and routes and formations that he gave me just to play faster and I can relay it to the whole defense as well.”

Johnson served as the third safety on defense two years ago when the Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.

However, Johnson did not play in last season’s 44-21 loss to the Cowboys due to a season-ending shoulder injury that put him on the injured reserve list for the 2019 season.

So Johnson is looking forward to Sunday’s matchup.

“Last year was a little weird watching the game,” Johnson said. “Because my idea of the Cowboys, I feel like it's always like a battle and it wasn't close. So, I wondered what happened. I'm going to definitely watch that tape even more coming into this game, but I'm excited. Sunday Night Football, new stadium against America's team, so it's just going to be a fun one.”

2. As Sports Illustrated Howard Balzer who covers the Cardinals writes about here, only five players were on the reserve/COVID-19 list heading into Week 1. 

As of Tuesday, according to the league and the NFL Players association, players and league personnel had a combined, positive testing rate across the league from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 of 0.017 percent.

Daily COVID-19 testing has proven an effective measure of limiting the spread of the virus so far in the NFL. The league plans continue daily testing throughout the season, and the results have made people around the league feeling pretty good that they can complete the 2020 season.

“I’m very optimistic for three main reasons,” said sports business consultant Marc Ganis, who works closely with the NFL “No. 1, they have the best protocols and testing in place. No. 2, the players have taken this incredibly seriously, and they deserve a tremendous amount of credit for adjusting their personal lives even better than other team’s staff members.

“No. 3, we’re seeing the COVID-19 numbers come down nationally. We’re seeing it all over the country -- Arizona, Texas, California, New York -- the numbers are coming down, and we’re also seeing the fatality rate has dropped like a stone since the first month. So that’s all great news. Not only do I expect to see the entire league played, and played on schedule, I think you’re going to see as we get toward Thanksgiving, you’re going to see the majority of stadiums having fans.”

3.With the signing of Jalen Ramsey and Cooper Kupp this week, the Rams have a foundational group of Aaron Donald, Jared Goff, Kupp and Ramsey signed through the 2023 season. However, the Rams still have work to do.

Johnson is the final year of his deal, and Robert Woods will be looking for a contract extension after the 2021 season. And the Rams still have not found an eventual replacement for cornerstone left tackle, 38-year-old Andrew Whitworth.

4. Ramsey and rookie receiver Van Jefferson had some pretty intense battles during training camp, leading to the veteran corner providing some advice to the Florida product on not tipping his routes.

Ramsey gushed over the potential of Jefferson this week.

“I see a lot in Van, honestly,” Ramsey said. “I think he’s not going to just good, I think he’s going to be a great player in the NFL. I think he’s going to be a really good player for us this year as a rookie. He’s gotten me multiple times in practice. He’s had good reps against me in practice, and I’ve had good reps against him as well.

“Any time I can help him out, I’m definitely going to do that. But it’s not just him, it’s any of our receivers.”

5. The Rams continued their community outreach effort to encourage more people in the Los Angeles community to register to vote across L.A. County on Saturday.

“It takes all of us” will be one of the messages the Rams present on game day as they pursue an organizational push to create changes involving social justice initiatives.

“The most fundamental thing we can do to start to create change in our society, to fight systemic racism and social justice is to encourage everyone to vote, said Kevin Demoff, Rams chief operating officer and executive vice president of football operations.