Texans DC Smith Loves DB Johnson's Fit and Versatility

Houston Texans defensive coordinator lavished praise on Lonnie Johnson and all but confirmed he would play the safety role to start the season.
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The Houston Texans drafted defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr. during the 2019 NFL Draft with the idea that he would slide in at the starting cornerback position. 

Instead, Johnson would move to the deep end as a safety in 2020. Last season, he took 64 percent of the defensive snaps opposite of Justin Reid, recording 703 total counts. 

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Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith believes Johnson can rebound next season after mixed reviews in 2020. For now, he intends to keep the third-year pro deep in coverage.  

"Lonnie has position flexibility," Smith said during his introductory press conference. "You’re going to hear that word an awful lot. I think it’s safe to say, we see Lonnie as a safety right now. He feels good about that. He’s got excellent size. He’s got a corner skillset, too. Really feel good about him fitting into our defense."  

Johnson started five games last season but played in all 16 games. He recorded a career-high 76 combined tackles, and three quarterback hits. 

This comes one season after starting seven games at cornerback. Known for his blazing 4.38 40-time, Johnson recorded 41 tackles with seven passes deflections in Anthony Weaver's 3-4 system. 

Smith will be implementing a new 4-3 base in Houston for the first time since 2010. Players who are versatile enough to play a bit of every role will stand out in competition this summer. 

"As you look at our roster right, we’ve gone through that evaluation process,: Smith said. "And if a guy’s here right now, we think that there’s a perfect role for them to fit within our system.”

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Johnson could potentially be utilized as a utility type defensive back. Smith's new scheme could call for a big nickel, meaning a third safety will be added to the field. 

Based on the NFL Draft, Smith could elect to use Johnson in a zone based role on the outside at cornerback. The Texans also added slot cornerback Desmond King this offseason and are hopeful for a bounce back from Bradley Roby. 

For now, he is expected to compete with veteran Eric Murray and A.J. Moore for first-team reps opposite Reid. 

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