Johnson adjusting to spot as DB in Buckeyes’ secondary

Published 3:04 am Friday, September 24, 2010

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — It doesn’t take a lot of reshuffling of the past to picture Orhian Johnson running Indiana’s offense.

Instead, he’s become a quarterback of No. 2 Ohio State’s defense – where he torments opposing signal-callers.

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Johnson — his first name is pronounced OR-ee-an — was offered a scholarship to call the signals for the Hoosiers when he came out of Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., three years ago. He was tempted to sign his name on the dotted line.

Quarterbacks, of course, are the Ferraris of college football. Defensive backs are Jeeps. Quarterbacks win the awards, they get the headlines, they become household names.

And all of that appealed to Johnson.

“My goals, of course, I hopefully would have (won) the Heisman and all those other good things,” he said with a laugh.

But at the same time, Ohio State was also offering a full ride to play any number of positions as a generic “athlete” recruit. Since he had played several spots through the years, and since he had grown close to several of the Buckeyes’ other recruits, he elected to cast his lot in Columbus.

“Indiana definitely showed me a lot of love with them having a couple of guys from my school go there and recruiting a couple of other guys from my school,” he said.

“I thought about it a lot but I was a lot closer with the recruiting class at Ohio State.”

So far, that decision to become a defensive back has been a good one.

In two games so far for the Buckeyes, he’s been a solid performer with five tackles and a forced fumble out of his strong safety spot.

“Orhian’s a really good player,” free safety Jermale Hines said. “Athletic. Smarts. He’s got the physical tools.”

Several of the Buckeyes say that Johnson might be the best athlete on the squad — and that includes 6-foot-6, 235-pound physical freak Terrelle Pryor, who happens to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback.

Johnson, who is 6-2 and 205, doesn’t shy away from such comparisons.

“Ahhh, man. It’s close, man,” he said with a grin. “I mean, Terrelle’s got me a little bit on the height and a little bit on the weight. But I take that as a compliment being compared to that. As long as I’m getting mentioned in the top two, then I’m cool with it.”

Johnson pulled a calf muscle in the preseason that briefly cost him his starting job. C.J. Barnett came in to replace him and had six strong quarters before he went down with a right knee injury that required surgery. He’ll be out for the remainder of the season.

Johnson then got his first career start – he played in 11 games a year ago as a reshirt freshman – last Saturday against Ohio University.

Coach Jim Tressel said he was pleased with how Johnson played in his debut as a starter.

“Orhian Johnson has to keep getting better (but) he played pretty well,” he said.

His position coach, Paul Haynes, said Johnson added an element to the defense.

“I thought he did a good job. The big thing that he did was play well technique-wise,” he said. “Orhian is a bigger guy, plays a little bit more physical.”

Popular with his teammates and increasingly a favorite of reporters, Johnson is a character who loves to talk.

He didn’t see Ohio’s mascot, Rufus Bobcat, attack Ohio State’s Brutus Buckeye when the team came out on the field on Saturday. But he had a strong opinion about the mugging.

“I’m pretty upset at Ohio that they came at Brutus like that, man,” he said.

Asked how he would have handled the situation had he been in the Brutus costume, he cracked, “You know me, I probably would have just stopped, dropped and rolled.”