RENTON — As an undrafted rookie fighting for a roster spot, Jeron Johnson plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Then again, that’s nothing new for Johnson, a safety who has been impressive in his first month with the Seahawks. When you get ignored by most Division I colleges despite a standout
high school career, you’re going to have that edge. And when you end up at Boise State, the small-conference school always fighting for respect among the college football elite, that chip on the shoulder will only grow.
“That chip has always been there, honestly,” said Johnson. “Coming out of
high school I didn’t get recruited too much, and going to Boise State we had to play with a chip on our shoulder. So at Boise we played with a chip on our shoulder, and I’ve got to carry that over.”
Johnson, who is from Compton, Calif., went largely ignored by USC and Pete Carroll in 2006 despite playing a short drive down the Harbor Freeway from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Not at all,” Johnson said when asked if Carroll recruited him. “I went to a couple of camps in high school, but that was pretty much it.”
But Carroll is certainly paying attention to Johnson now as he and several other young players in Seattle’s secondary wage one of the team’s most competitive roster battles.
“He’s been a real surprise,” Carroll said. “(General manager) John Schneider really liked Jeron, and he was a guy that we tried to get in free agency. He’s doing very well. He’s a very physical kid and learning real well, too.”
In Seattle’s first preseason game, Johnson saw most of his playing time late, and had a pair of pass breakups, including one in the end zone on San Diego’s final play that clinched the win for the Seahawks. Last weekend against Minnesota, Johnson forced a fumble on punt coverage, and also got on the field early in the game as part of the dime package with the first-team defense.
“That’s a confidence booster going against a quarterback like (Donovan) McNabb and being out there with Earl (Thomas) and Kam (Chancellor) and those guys with the starters. That’s a confidence booster that lets you know you really do belong in the NFL and you can play with these guys.”
Yet as good as Johnson has been, he is far from a sure thing to make the final roster. The Seahawks likely will keep nine, possibly 10, defensive backs, and Johnson is one of several players fighting for those final spots. Josh Pinkard, Mark LeGree, Kennard Cox and Byron Maxwell are all trying to earn a place on the roster, just like Johnson.
“It’s really competitive,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “Hopefully these last two preseason games, we can come to a conclusion, but it’s so competitive. Every day someone else is having a big day. It’s going to be a battle to the end.”
Bradley, like Carroll, has been impressed with Johnson.
“Every day you see him make plays,” Bradley said. “They’re all still learning every day, but it seems like it’s clicking for him.”
Johnson says one of the biggest reasons for his success in training camp is the offseason work he put in with NFL players over the summer. Receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas and former Boise State teammate Orlando Scandrick, who plays for the Cowboys, were among the players Johnson worked out with and learned from.
“Having them talk to me on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s technique I should use, or just the mentality or mindset I should take into it, it helped me out a lot being around vets,” he said. “My mindset coming in was that I knew I had to work. Being undrafted, I knew it was going to be a harder road for me, so I was just prepared to come in and work.
“We got after it, and just being around those guys helped me out. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was one of the biggest influences, because he was a seventh-round pick, so that’s like being a free agent. He talked to me and helped me out a lot.”
The Seahawks released defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer, marking the second time in a year that a team has given up on the former first-round pick. Balmer, who San Francisco drafted with the 29th pick in 2008, came to Seattle last August for the low price of a sixth-round pick, a trade that was made shortly after the Seahawks sent former first-rounder Lawrence Jackson to Detroit for a sixth-round pick.
Balmer started 11 games last season as an injury replacement, first filling in for three games at defensive tackle for Brandon Mebane, then later at end for Red Bryant, where he started eight of the final nine games.
The Seahawks re-signed running back Vai Taua to fill the open roster spot. Taua, an undrafted rookie from Nevada, spent eight days on Seattle roster before being released Monday.
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog