Backup safety Johnson is ‘invaluable’ to Seahawks

RENTON — Kam Chancellor returned to practice this week, and that is unquestionably good news for the Seattle Seahawks. With the Pro Bowl safety sidelined throughout offseason workouts and the start of training camp, however, the Seahawks got a good reminder of just how good they have it when it comes to depth behind their starting safeties.

Jeron Johnson, who is heading into his fourth season with Seattle, has spent his past three seasons as a backup to Chancellor and as a specials teams standout, but with Chancellor recovering from offseason hip surgery, Johnson has been working with the first-team defense alongside All-Pro Earl Thomas, and the Boise State product has more than held his own as part of the league’s best secondary.

“Awesome, awesome,” Rocky Seto, the Seahawks’ defensive passing game coordinator said when asked about Johnson. “He’s done a great job while Kam was out. The coaches want to make sure he understands how well he’s done. He’s done a tremendous job, he’s elevated his game and just really gained the confidence of the whole team.”

Johnson appeared in just seven games last season because of a pair of hamstring injuries, the second of which landed him on injured reserve. Yet despite those injuries as well as his status as a backup behind two of the NFL’s best safeties — Johnson also will be an option to back up Earl Thomas at free safety — this offseason served as a reminder of just how much the Seahawks value Johnson’s contributions both on special teams and as a more-than-capable backup.

Johnson was a restricted free agent heading into the offseason, and to make sure he didn’t eventually hit the open market, the Seahawks slapped the second-round tender on the undrafted player, which came with a $2.187 million price tag, a hefty salary for a backup. Eventually the Seahawks and Johnson agreed to a new, $1.5 million deal. The Seahawks could have let Johnson test the open market and perhaps signed him for less, but they have seen how well he has played in preseason games, and they know his value on special teams, so they realized that letting him test free agency could backfire.

“That goes to show you how much (general manager John Schneider) and coach Carroll value him,” Seto said. “… He’s invaluable without any question. He’s been great, because he can fill in at either safety spot, he can play in nickel packages if we want him to be a bigger nickel for us. He’s just invaluable.”

For his part, Johnson didn’t have full control of his future, but he did show a willingness to put winning and a chance to be a part of a good organization ahead of going at the first possible chance for a starting job. When the Seahawks used a second-round tender on Johnson, they did so to keep him from free agency, but also did so knowing they’d wouldn’t likely actually pay him that much, and Johnson signed the tender knowing the same thing.

If Johnson’s only priority was to find a team that didn’t have Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas ahead of him on the depth chart, he could have signed the tender, then refused to re-do his deal, likely leading to his release before start of the season. That might have meant less than money than the deal he agreed to, but any roster would offer a better chance at starting than Seattle’s.

“I like this organization, Pete and Schneider,” Johnson said. “I know this defense, and the competition here. Just being around Earl and Kam, I feel like I still have a lot to learn from those guys. Even though Earl is a year younger than me, I’m learning from both of those safeties. I just felt like the situation here is the best one for me … My agent and myself, we both felt like this was the best position for me.”

And don’t take that to mean Johnson is fine being a career backup to two star safeties. He fully believes in his ability to start in this league, and in the meantime to make an impact in whatever way he can with the 2014 Seahawks.

“I definitely have confidence in myself to be a starter in this league,” he said. “My time will come. Right now I’m playing my role, which is special teams and be ready if they put a defensive package in for me. Just be ready to go and do what I can do to contribute.”

And Carroll has an equally high opinion about Johnson:

“He’s fit in beautifully. He’s a great communicator back there now; he can take charge, make the calls, works with Earl really well. He’s been in the rotation for a couple years now so it’s not new for him. But he’s handled it really well. We feel like the system as really been able to flourish and keep going and growing and all that so he’s done a great job.”

Roster move

The Seahawks waived injured undrafted rookie safety Dion Bailey, who suffered a serious ankle sprain in Saturday’s mock game. If unclaimed on waivers, Bailey will revert to injured reserve. To fill the open roster spot, Seattle signed defensive back Trey Wolfe, who spent rookie minicamp with the Seahawks.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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