When Texans rookie cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. takes the field Monday night against the New Orleans Saints, it marks a significant moment in his life.
Not only is Johnson is preparing for his first NFL game, but the second-round draft pick from Kentucky is looking forward to playing against former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player quarterback Drew Brees.
“I’m excited about it,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to get out there and play and show everybody what I’m made of. I’m ready to show what I’m about for real. Being on the same field with Drew Brees, I’ve been watching him growing up. So, it’s going to be amazing. It’s Monday night. I can’t wait to play a real game.”
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Johnson represents the physical prototype for the position. At 6-2, 213 pounds, Johnson has run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds.
Johnson is slated for a backup role currently behind veterans Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby, but is expected to see action Monday.
“He’s still learning,” Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “He’s a rookie, like you said. You know how I feel about rookies. Rookies are going to make rookie mistakes. If I can minimize those mistakes or minimize the chances of him making a mistake, I’ll do that, but he’s going to be on the field and he’s going to play some.”
Aggressive and physical, Johnson had his best performance of the preseason against the Dallas Cowboys when he prevented a touchdown by breaking up a pass.
The Texans face a big challenge against Saints All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas.
“He’s a great receiver,” Thomas said. “We match up in size pretty well. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
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Johnson experienced some rough moments during the preseason, including being kicked out of practice early after delivering some punishing hits in a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers that led to a scuffle and caused two injuries. He allowed a touchdown pass against Green Bay in the preseason opener.
“Just learned how to be a pro in this league, learned how to practice well and show what I’m made of,” Johnson said. “Just trying to earn my teammates’ trust and just physicality, just being myself. Confidence level, that was never a problem for me. I’ve always had confidence about football since I was little.”
Johnson had a difficult upbringing in Gary, Ind., a once vibrant steel town that has fallen on hard times economically and has an alarmingly high homicide rate. Johnson has lost several close friends to gun violence, including classmate and track and field teammate Daja Brookshire. He has several tattoos commemorating them.
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Johnson hopes he can offer hope to Gary residents through his example.
“Oh man, I’m not going back,” Johnson said. “Just give them something to look at and give them home coming from my city.”