If you're having second thoughts about Rashad Johnson, throw in some film.
The Alabama safety believes his performance the last two seasons for the Crimson Tide in the rugged SEC speaks loudest when it comes to his game.
Johnson is one of just a handful of free safeties that figure to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft, and he's one the Bears have been keeping close contact with as area scout Ted Monago remains in communication with him. The Bears have a need at the position. They signed Josh Bullocks to a one-year contract and he figures to compete with Craig Steltz with Glenn Earl perhaps having an outside shot. If general manager Jerry Angelo, who is known to like Johnson, goes with a safety in the second or third round of the draft, the position could come down to a training camp competition between Bullocks and the newcomer.
"I definitely believe I have the ability to come in and be a starter as a rookie,'' Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. ``My knowledge of the game is one of my strong points. That will help me learn the system and I believe that will be an edge for me. I think I could do that fairly quickly and I have the athletic ability to step right in.''
The Bears did just that with a rookie safety in 2005 when Chris Harris was quickly installed as a starter. Danieal Manning started at safety for the majority of his rookie season in 2006. Lovie Smith isn't afraid to go with young players, especially in the secondary.
Judging purely on production, Johnson is the best safety in the draft. He made 11 interceptions the last two seasons and also had 19 passes broken up. That means he got his hands on the ball 30 times, far more than any other draft-eligible safety. He's not the fastest safety but his instincts seem to put him in the right place the majority of the time and that's more critical than any stop watch reading. The issue is his size. He measured 5-11, 203 pounds at the combine, but one scout said he played closer to 185 as a senior. Johnson said he was in the 190 range. While injuries were not a factor at Alabama--he played in 50 games--durability will be a question in the NFL.
``That is one of the biggest concerns that teams had for me and I tried to answer all of those questions,'' he said. ``I went to the combine and weighed in at 203 and I am maintaining that weight while I do all of my conditioning and working out as well. Hopefully that's no longer a issue.
``It wasn't so much teams were saying [things about my size] to me but I kept hearing it, from my agent or on TV or wherever. Is he going to be durable enough to play 16 games and then some? He played last season at 190. Can he take the hits and deliver the punishment while holding up? I wanted to leave the combine with all of those questions answered. I added that weight and I maintained the speed.''
Johnson said learning nutritional habits was as important as the training he did at Athletes Performance. He said that is how the weight he has added is good weight and that he's maintained his frame at 203 while he continues to train.
"It's helped me a lot,'' he said.
The Bears are not the only team interested in him. He's made official visits to Denver and Philadelphia. He's gotten calls recently from Atlanta and Baltimore. At this point, clubs are making sure they have the right contact information for players for draft weekend. Johnson is a candidate for the Bears if they elect to go a different direction than wide receiver with their first pick at No. 49 overall. The issue is whether or not he will be available when they select again at No. 99 with the compensatory pick they received at the end of the third round.
Nolan Nawrocki's updated draft value chart at Pro Football Weekly, released Tuesday, had Johnson with a 2C grade, meaning his value right now is as a late second rounder. He gave Johnson an arrow pointing up to indicate he's on the move though. Perhaps the Bears could also secure Johnson if they traded down from No. 49, but they would have to find a trading partner in the right position. Of the teams we listed, here is where they select in the second and third rounds:
Team Round-Pick-Overall Pick
Bears 2-17-49, 3-35-99
Atlanta 2-23-55, 3-26-90
Baltimore 2-25-57, 3-24-88
Denver* 2-16-48, 3-15-79, 3-20-84
Philadelphia* 2-21-53, 3-21-85
* Team has two first-round picks
NFL.com listed safety as the No. 2 draft need for the Falcons. It called it the No. 3 need for the Bears and the No. 4 need for Baltimore and Denver.
Ultimately, Johnson believes the body of work he compiled for the Tide will be the deciding factor for a team choosing him. He also comes with the backing of Nick Saban, whose background is as a defensive backs coach.
"That is a big thing I hang my hat on,'' Johnson said. "I made a lot of big plays. In every game and in every situation we needed something it seemed like I was able to do something on defense when I was called upon, whether it was intercept a pass, I had 11 over the last two seasons, get my hands on a ball or force a fumble. I was around the ball.
"[Saban] made a tremendous difference for me. He's definitely a defensive-minded coach and his specialty is in the secondary. He taught me the little things back there, reading linemen, footwork, small things that help you be successful. It's not all just backpedal and go from there. He taught me about being a student of the game and to anticipate what is going to happen because you've seen it happen on film and in practice.''
A former walk-on who earned his scholarship status, Johnson has the kind of character Angelo looks for in a player.
``From walking on to being a two-time All-SEC player, it definitely means a lot to me,'' Johnson said. ``It definitely came from a lot of hard work. That's something I am definitely taking with me, that anything is possible if you work hard and keep your mind focused on it. I worked hard every day and that is the player some team is going to get. That's who I am.
``[Second round] is definitely where I am thinking right now. Of course, everyone wants to go in the first round but no one really knows. I'm looking forward to watching the draft and getting my opportunity. One team is going to get a player that is going to come in and whether it's in the secondary or on special teams, he's going to make plays as soon as he gets there. I'm a self motivator and I want to win.''