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September 14, 2012

Johnson emerges as Buckeyes' 'star'

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Entering the senior season of his college career, Orhian Johnson's time at Ohio State appeared to have passed him by. Slotted behind two younger players on the Buckeyes' depth chart, most of the fifth-year safety's playing time in OSU's season opener against Miami (OH) came on the Buckeyes' special teams units.

But after reviewing game film, the OSU coaching staff wasn't happy with what it saw from junior defensive back Corey Brown at the Buckeyes' 'star'/nickel back position. So in an effort to get more from one of the positions that helps add flexibility to the OSU defense, the coaches turned to the veteran Johnson.

What they got from the Saint Petersburg, Fla. native was exactly what he was looking for. And then some.

Johnson recorded six tackles- five of which were unassisted- and recorded an interception in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Buckeyes' 31-16 victory over Central Florida.

After spending most of the meaningful minutes in the Buckeyes' opener on the bench, Johnson said that he felt right at home back on the field with OSU's first-team defense.

"It felt good. I felt comfortable being out there on the field. Just being out there, running around, it definitely felt good to get my hands on the ball," Johnson said. "I just was trying to strive to go four-to-six seconds each and every play. Even sometimes when I was tired, but just putting my extra effort out there, it worked out for me."

The ball seemed to be coming Johnson's way against the Knights, which is something the fifth-year senior took advantage of. With the score tied at 10 late in the second quarter, Johnson got his hands on an errant Blake Bortles pass, and while he wasn't able to ultimately come up with the interception, the pass deflection put enough air underneath the ball to allow OSU cornerback Travis Howard to pick it off.

Johnson's ability to make plays provided the Buckeyes' defense with something it was lacking in their season opener and was clearly needed against the Knights. His fourth-quarter interception came with UCF at OSU's nine-yard line, depriving the Knights the opportunity to make it a one-score game.

Ohio State's new nickel back had one thing on his mind during the game-saving play.

"I saw ball, get ball," Johnson said.

The decision to play Johnson appears to have paid off for the Ohio State coaching staff- and it was one that first-year Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said he played a large role in.

"I was very involved with that decision because I see he's so talented. But he's another guy that's been around here, production hasn't been exactly what it needs to be," Meyer said. "He earned that right in practice. He does some really good things for us on special teams. And we felt like we needed more production out of that nickel spot."

After losing his starting job at safety in the middle of last season, Johnson is thankful for the push that Meyer has provided to him throughout his short tenure in Columbus.

"He just trying to get the best out of me, getting all the potential that I do have," Johnson said. "Just kind of pulling it all out of me, sometimes when I may not do that for the team, where I just trying to go out there and push myself for everybody on the team."

With his play since returning to the Buckeyes' first-unit, the nickel spot appears to be Johnson's to lose. And given that the the position calls for a player who can both cover a wide receiver and help with run support, the Boca Ciega high school product feels that he may have finally found a home on the OSU defense.

"I feel like it's my speed from sideline-to-sideline, but I'm comfortable anywhere on the field," Johnson said. "As long as they put me out there, and they tell me what I need to do, I'm going to go hard, four-to-six seconds, and try to make as many plays as possible."



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