Johnson battles for roster spot with Seahawks

RENTON — When the Seahawks were scouting Jeron Johnson last year, the book on the Boise State safety was that he might not always wow you in practice, but he’ll show up on game day.

And as far as reputations go, there are plenty of worse things to be known as than a gamer.

“One of the things we saw in him, when we heard about Jeron through the whole process, was that on game day he really showed up,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “In practice he did some good things, but all of a sudden in games when he had a chance to play. … he showed up.”

Last weekend in Denver, Johnson was impressive once again when the lights came on. The second-year safety, who is far from a lock to make the roster, saw action early in the game with the starting defense, and made a very strong argument for why he should not just be on the team, but have a significant role on the defense.

Early in the second quarter, Johnson stuffed Broncos running back Lance Ball on second-and-one, a play that would have been solid in and of itself, but as he was taking Ball to the ground, Johnson stripped the ball for a fumble. On Denver’s next possession, Johnson intercepted an errant Peyton Manning pass playing as a deep safety, giving him two turnovers in a span of four plays.

“It’s always fun to just be playing football in general, but I got the opportunity to get in early, and I love it, man, I loved it,” said Johnson, who signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent last year. “I got out there with Earl (Thomas) and the other starters. … I had fun out there.”

Johnson was impressive during the preseason last year, too, which is how he made the roster as an undrafted rookie at the expense of, amongst others, fifth-round pick Mark LeGree. Although he was good enough to make the team last year and contribute primarily on special teams, Johnson feels like he has come a long, long ways since training camp a year ago.

“It’s not too much different from what they asked of me last season,” said Johnson, who like other rookies last year was behind thanks to the lockout, which eliminated offseason workouts.

“It’s just I had time to understand the defense more this year. The OTAs and minicamps helped tremendously. The lockout was my rookie year, so just having OTAs and minicamp helped out. … This year I’m playing a lot faster.”

Yet improved or not, Johnson has his work cut out for him to earn a roster spot, as well as a more significant role on the defense.

When the Seahawks decided against re-signing Atari Bigby, that left an opening to be the team’s third safety, a player who will see frequent playing time in certain packages. Seattle drafted Kentucky’s Winston Guy to compete for that role, and Chris Maragos is also making his case.

So Johnson, despite last weekend’s showing, knows he needs to continue to impress. And so far, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes what he has seen as Johnson transitions to his second season.

“He’s had some big plays and he’s way ahead of where he was a year ago,” Carroll said. “This is a great freshman year, sophomore jump. We have seen him really take advantage of that. He’s been active and we have gotten him involved in a lot of stuff.

“He’s more effective and reliable in the kicking game as well. It’s the kind of jump you could see, and in my mind I’m hoping that there’s that level of improvement from all of our first-year to second-year guys. Jeron has been a good illustration of that for sure.”

If past performance is any indication, expect Johnson to stand out again on Friday in Kansas City. And while he has been a gamer, so to speak, Johnson is also showing up more and more in practice. He had two interceptions in practice Wednesday and is making his case daily, not just on game days, to be the Seahawks’ third safety ahead of Guy, Maragos and others.

“I think his practice habits are catching up with him and it’s just really elevated his play,” Bradley said. “… He knows it’s a strong competition, it’s one of the reasons we brought in Winston and (DeShawn Shead) and Maragos. All those guys are trying to compete for that spot.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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