|Another Johnson steps into a leading role at Georgia Tech|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 28 August 2007 12:53|
It's another Johnson - Calvin, to be specific. And though he's now earning millions to play in the NFL, he still casts a large shadow at Georgia Tech.
``He's always checking on me,'' said James Johnson, looking back at Calvin's image painted on the wall, clad in a tuxedo while posing with one of the myriad of awards he won last season for being the top receiver in college football.
The two Johnsons still talk frequently on the phone, Calvin calling in to make sure James is ready to take over the role of go-to receiver for the Yellow Jackets.
``He wants me to be the best I can,'' James said. ``I'm just not as tall as him or anything like that.''
Indeed, it's ludicrous to expect James, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior, to have the same impact as Calvin, a 6-5, 235-pound freak of nature. But it would be a mistake to overlook this pass-catching Johnson when the Yellow Jackets open a season of high hopes at Notre Dame on Saturday.
``I'm about as fast as he was,'' James said, a hint of confidence creeping into his voice. ``(Calvin) just wants me to be a great leader, to continue to do what I do. He's always telling me it's my show now.''
As a sophomore, James ranked second on the team with 39 catches for 608 yards - an impressive average of 15.6 per reception - and scored seven times. Still, those numbers paled in comparison to the other Johnson, who hauled in 76 throws for a staggering 1,202 yards and 15 TDs.
Calvin left after his junior season and was picked No. 2 overall by the Detroit Lions, who signed him to a six-year contract that includes more than $27 million in guaranteed money.
``He's doing better than anyone else in this room,'' quarterback Taylor Bennett quipped.
Without their once-in-a-generation receiver, the Yellow Jackets plan to diversify the passing game. It will no longer be Calvin and Everyone Else, as it was a year ago when James was the only other wideout to reach double-figure catches.
Sophomore Greg Smith moves in as the other starter, while redshirt freshmen Demaryius Thomas and Correy Earls are expected to get extensive playing time after sitting out last season. D.J. Donley, a true freshman whose size (6-4, 218) really stands out, could get on the field immediately.
``I like to think we've split (Calvin) up into five people,'' Bennett said. ``They've all stepped into some pretty big shoes, and they're filling them.''
No one is more eager to fill those shoes than the Johnson who stayed behind. James had a few dropped balls during Georgia Tech's late-season swoon, but those slip-ups have only made him more determined to prove he's ready to take over the No. 1 role.
``When you've been behind somebody, you want to show everybody what you're capable of doing,'' Johnson said. ``I'm looking for my spot.''
Like the rest of the team, he's determined to start - and finish - strong. The Yellow Jackets earned a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last year but ended on a sour note with three straight losses, each by three points.
Coach Chan Gailey is counting on Johnson to have a breakout season, even if he doesn't come close to matching the numbers put up by that player with the same last name.
``Any team that was to lose a Calvin Johnson would worry about replacing that type of player,'' Gailey said. ``But if you don't have confidence in your own players and what they bring to the table, then you are wrong as well.''
The coach provided this scouting report on James ``Don't Call Me Calvin'' Johnson: ``He is extremely quick. He's got better speed than I think people give him credit for. He's able to make the tough catch. I know that he dropped a couple late in the season, but most every great receiver has dropped some at some point.''
In addition to his individual duties, Johnson must provide guidance to an inexperienced group of receivers. The other wideouts on the three-deep depth chart have combined for a grand total of eight catches in their collective careers.
As that guy on the wall keeps reminding him, Johnson needs to be a leader.
``We've got a really young receiving corps,'' he said. ``They can make plays. I've seen them in practice. They're learning very fast. Before you know it, it's not just me they're going to be looking at.''