Kevin Johnson has been in the NFL long enough to know the difference between pain and injury. Or so he thought.
Last year during training camp with the Cleveland Browns, he took a shot that he figured just knocked the wind out of him. It was only later, when the discomfort lingered, that he realized it probably was something more serious.
“I decided, yeah, you know, let’s go check it out and see what’s going on with it,” he said Wednesday. “I ended up lacerating my liver. I wasn’t necessarily scared when I got the news.
“I’m just a kind of optimistic guy. Everything worked out. I didn’t have to get surgery. … And I was able to finish the rest of the season with the Browns.”
The Tennessee Titans, likewise, expect the best after they signed Johnson to a free-agent deal this week as part of an offseason overhaul of their secondary.
Last season was the cornerback’s sixth in the league, and his first with the Browns. He ultimately appeared in 13 games, finished among Cleveland’s top 10 tacklers and was one of three on the defense with at least one forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Thanks to that injury, though, it was also all too similar to the majority of his other five years in the league.
Health issues have been a regular part of Johnson’s professional career and have kept him from realizing the potential many predicted for him when he was a first-round pick (16th overall) by Houston in the 2015 draft and the second cornerback taken. Of the first seven cornerbacks selected that year, he is one of two who never has been a full-time starter and his one career interception is fewest among that group.
Only twice has Johnson managed to make it on to the field for all 16 games of a regular season. The last time was in 2019 with Buffalo.
Overall, he has missed half as many games (32) as he has played (64). In 2018, his final season with the Texans, two concussions in less than a month sidelined him for all but the season-opener. He sustained a broken foot during his rookie season but played throughout. However, a reoccurrence of the same injury caused him to sit out 10 games in 2016. Johnson also has dealt with a sprained wrist and a broken knee.
Now 28 years old (he will be 29 before the start of the season), he has not let all the injuries sour him on the sport or his prospects to excel at it.
“I’ve been injured a lot throughout my career,” Johnson said. “You know, [those are] things I cannot control. But all those things I’ve learned from. You know, you just learn from all the lessons you go through in life.
“I still think very highly of myself as a player, and I’m looking to prove that this season.”