In the ninth installment of this series, it's time to talk about a man who stepped up last season: Derrick Johnson. The seventh year pro out of Texas put together his best campaign last year; quieting some skeptics, and fueling others.Johnson has always been a polarizing topic for Kansas City fans. His athletic ability and inconsistency had always been equally undeniable. One play could be mesmerizing and the next would be predictably infuriating. Johnson was average or slightly above his first four seasons, ranging anywhere from 76-95 tackles. Of course that was in the 4-3 scheme under Herm Edwards, when Johnson was being utilized as an outside linebacker.
In 2009, Todd Haley came in and brought the 3-4 defense with him, moving Johnson to the inside and more notably, the bench. Johnson was frustrated and proclaimed he was ready to leave the Chiefs during the season while backing up Demorrio Williams and making just 35 tackles. He ended the season with his most memorable performance to date however, running back two interceptions for touchdowns in a rout of Denver.
Last season, Johnson finally put it all together. He amassed a career high 121 tackles and four forced fumbles. Even more telling about his development was his play in coverage. Kansas City's linebackers struggled for the most part in space except Johnson. He never had more than six passes defended in a season until last year, when he had 16. He was a borderline pro bowler, and at the age of 28 got a shiny new contract for five years.
The question is obvious now: Will Derrick Johnson leave his inconsistency behind him for good?
My Verdict: Yes he will. Todd Haley benching him in 2009 was the best thing that could have ever happened to Johnson. It was a wake up call after years of Herm coddling him. Haley made it clear that occasional effort and focus would nail him to the bench. He demanded Johnson's best, and in 2010 he got it.
Johnson was one of the key components to last year's surprising run, and he will continue to be an important cog in the Chiefs resurgence. He made big plays along the goal line in Indianapolis and in the playoffs against Baltimore. Both of which were because of immediate diagnosis of the play. That speaks of film study and increased football IQ.
With Romeo Crennel calling the defense, Johnson will be put in positions to thrive. He has all the physical ability anyone could ask for and now he's adding the drive and focus needed to become great. Johnson also has Glenn Dorsey in front of him, and Tamba Hali to his right. Kansas City will present problems for teams headed that way, and Johnson should see many opportunities to make an impact due to the talent around him.
Derrick Johnson finally found consistency in 2010. He'll find Honolulu in 2011.