Just over a year ago, Lonnie Johnson made the move to safety.
When Houston Texans Safeties Coach Greg Jackson first saw Lonnie Johnson Jr., he thought the young defensive back looked like a prototypical safety with a skill set to match.
"Well, the first thing I saw was the length – how tall, how long he was," Jackson said. "I think the biggest thing when you look at a player like that and he's got the size, the first thing you think about is, 'man, that would be a great looking safety.'"
Couple with his ability to play inside, Johnson seems like a natural for the spot. However, drafted in 2019 with a second-round pick, Johnson was originally selected to play cornerback. As a rookie, he saw action in 14 games with seven starts at cornerback, but was moved to the safety position last offseason. With no OTAs or in-person drills in 2020, the move wasn't a smooth transition, but he was a natural fit.
"I saw his confidence grow a lot," defensive back Justin Reid said. "I felt like he was more comfortable in that role. He's a physical guy. Throughout the year he got more confident and his understanding of defense got better. In the safety position, you're like a captain on the backside of the defense. You're forced to make a lot of calls. Putting him in that situation to where he had to make the calls, it made him learn the defense much better. Because of that, he was able to play more quickly, he was able to play more aggressively, and I think it just helped him overall."
Johnson, now in Year 3, has a year of playing safety under his belt. Last season, he saw action in all 16 games with five starts and recorded single-season career highs in total tackles (70), tackles for loss (one), quarterback hits (three) and special teams tackles (six).
The Texans wrapped up their offseason workout program in June which did include OTAs and on-field work this year. For now, Johnson is trending in the right direction with the new coaching staff and Defensive Coordinator Lovie Smith's defense.
"With him, it's more of the just repetition for him and being consistent at what he does," Jackson said. "He's a really good player. He's athletic, but I think the biggest thing with him is just understanding the concept of the safety position and how to just take proper angles and how to be a better tackler. I think one of the things with him just during this OTA camp is that he's been doing a pretty good job at doing those things. He's been focused. He's been concentrating. He's been here. That's the first step that he must take."
The Texans will report for training camp at the end July.
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