FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Jermaine Johnson didn’t particularly like what he saw when he turned on the film of his rookie season with the New York Jets.
The 26th overall pick in last year's NFL draft thought he was watching someone else. Not the player he was at Florida State.
And it had nothing to do with wearing a different jersey number.
“I mean, my dominance usually just has always popped off tape,” Johnson said Thursday after the Jets wrapped up training camp. "I’ve always looked like the best or one of the best guys on the field. And I just didn’t feel that for me last year.
“So I just went to work this offseason and made sure that wasn’t the case this year.”
For one, Johnson switched from No. 52 to his old No. 11 he wore in high school and college. He also moved from defensive end to linebacker — with more of a pure edge rusher role. Johnson also added muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame.
“I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but he looks massive, in a good way,” coach Robert Saleh said early in training camp. “He's explosive and very powerful.”
On a defense loaded with playmakers, Johnson stood out this summer by routinely making plays. That was consistent throughout practices with the team, joint sessions with Carolina and Tampa Bay and in preseason games.
“I feel like it went good,” Johnson said of his camp. “I feel like I made my statement."
And that “statement” is clear in his mind.
“That I’m a dominant player every time I’m on the field,” he said.
The 24-year-old Johnson's confidence certainly isn't lacking. But he also has his situation in perspective.
“Still, I mean, what have I done, right?” he said. "That’s how I look at it.”
Johnson has always felt the need to prove himself from his days growing up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where was a standout football player who didn't have good enough grades to play Division I ball. Then came a stint at Independence Community College in Kansas, where he was part of the fourth season of the Netflix series “Last Chance U.”
He transferred to the University of Georgia after two seasons and played two years for the Bulldogs before playing at Florida State for his final college season. With the Seminoles, he was the ACC defensive player of the year after emerging as one of the country's top pass rushers.
The Jets were so impressed with Johnson, they traded back into the first round last year — after taking cornerback Sauce Gardner at No. 4 overall and wide receiver Garrett Wilson at No. 10 — to add him to their defense.
He was part of a defensive rotation in which he didn't need to stand out right away as rookie. But Johnson kept feeling as though he should be making more plays even in a limited role.
“I always feel like I'm the guy,” Johnson said. “Last year, sitting back a little bit, not really having as much opportunity and stuff like that, you could look at it two ways. You could kind of be (upset) ... or you could be your biggest critic and fix what you need to fix and work on what you need to work on so that when your opportunity rolls around, you deliver big.”
Johnson chose to keep working on all aspects of his game, grinding the film and trying to improve each week.
“You can’t be a yes man to yourself," he said, "or you’re never going to get better.”
He finished with 29 tackles, including three tackles for losses, 2 1/2 sacks, five quarterback hits and 11 QB pressures in 14 games.
They're respectable numbers for a rookie. But it wasn't quite the impact the two players the Jets picked before him made, with Gardner winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award and Wilson taking the Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
“I was just happy for them because they made the most of the opportunity, and I believe that I made the most out of my opportunity as well,” Johnson said. “I’m always going to be hungry for more. I’m always going to want to dominate and kind of be seen as that dominant player. I want to be seen as a player that offenses have to scout for.”
Judging by what he did during the offseason and training camp, that very well might be the case this year.
“I'm excited for him to get into the regular season just so he can start translating all that to, not necessarily real football, but he’s done a really nice job,” Saleh said. “You just cheer him on and just hope that he keeps taking those steps.”
NOTES: WR Allen Lazard has an AC joint injury in one of his shoulders. Saleh said he won't play Saturday night against the Giants, but should be ready for the regular-season opener. ... DE Carl Lawson continues to deal with a back ailment that has his status for the opener uncertain. ... LT Duane Brown participated in individual drills after being activated Wednesday from the physically unable to perform list following offseason shoulder surgery.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press