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Johnson Hopes To Fill Void In 2004


GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman calls it a position of attrition, an area of the roster where there can never be too much depth.

So it won't be much of a surprise if the Green Bay Packers make cornerback one of the focal points of free agency and the NFL Draft this offseason.

But as the Packers' personnel staff keeps busy seeking out 'new' talent to bring to Green Bay, down in Texas, some 'old' talent is looking forward to a chance to make his first real contribution to the Packers' secondary.

"I want to make a great impact next season," 2003 draft choice Chris Johnson said from his offseason home in Dallas. "I'm going to come into training camp with the mentality that I'm fighting for a starting spot. That was my goal last year and that's what I was working toward until everything went wrong."

What went wrong for Johnson was a partially torn patella tendon, sustained in an August practice, which ended his rookie campaign in the preseason.

Until that point, Johnson, the first of four seventh-round picks acquired by the Packers in 2003, had been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp.

Drafted for his blazing speed and his 5-foot-11, 195-pound frame, Johnson's pure cover abilities were considered raw and unpolished. But in just three preseason games, one of them shortened by inclement weather, he defensed four passes -- tying him with Al Harris for the preseason lead in that category -- and opened some eyes in the process.

"Johnson had a nice preseason," director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie said. "Physically, he's everything that we look for in a corner with his size and speed. When he gets healthy, he still has a lot of improving to do, but he has some definite potential."

Of course, that potential might have gone overlooked if not for Johnson's impressive on-campus workout coming out of the University of Louisville. It was there that Johnson ran a head-turning 4.18 in the 40-yard dash, which was faster than any 40 time reported at the NFL Scouting Combine that year.

"There's no question that the 40 was huge for me," Johnson admitted. "Any time scouts see a guy nearly 200 pounds running that fast, it's going to raise some eyebrows, and that's just what happened for me.

"But that doesn't mean that I didn't have to prove myself when I got to Green Bay, or that I won't have to do that again when I get back there this season."

Johnson can start making his case as early as the Packers' first mini-camp, following the NFL Draft in late April, but he's already hard at work.

For the past two months he's been working out and rehabilitating his surgically-repaired knee in Dallas, and in just a few weeks he'll return to Green Bay for offseason conditioning.

So far, Johnson said his rehab has been positive. He's running on the knee, which he thinks is up to about "85 percent" of its normal strength, but it's going to be a while before he's running the 40 in sub-4.2.

"I'm not up to full speed yet, but there's no reason I can't get all my speed back," Johnson said. "To be honest, I was surprised when I ran (a 4.18 40-yard dash) coming out of college. I'd just been working hard with my speed coach and all of a sudden it just kind of clicked.

"But give me enough time and I can get back to where I was. I won't lose a step."

For Johnson, bigger than the challenge of catching up will be the challenge of moving forward. As a player in need of experience, sitting out the entire 2003 season was an opportunity missed.

"Being hurt was devastating," Johnson said. "At the time, I didn't even realize how much. But once I knew I was going to be out for the entire season, I was crushed.

"It was hard to be around the guys and not be able to play on Sundays. I didn't like that at all, and it's a feeling I don't want to have again. I want to be on the field."

And the Packers want him there, too.

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