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Battling Jarret Johnson Will Be 'Really Weird'

Posted Nov 21, 2012

Jarret Johnson and many Ravens are still great friends, but will become enemies for one game.

Jarret Johnson texted Ravens running back Ray Rice during lunch Wednesday.

“Guys, you better bring your game faces,” said the Chargers outside linebacker, who will face his former team for the first time Sunday in San Diego.

Rice thought about giving Johnson a “lol” (laugh out loud) in return, but opted not to. It seems the running back didn’t exactly know whether Johnson was joking.

“That’s ‘Double J.’ He was a no nonsense kind of guy here,” Rice said.

“I’m sure between the lines everything will be physical, but after the game it will be great to shake hands, take a picture with him and let him know that we still love him.”

After nine years in Baltimore, Johnson, 31, signed a four-year deal with the San Diego Chargers during the offseason.

He left as Baltimore’s Iron Man, playing in a franchise-record 130 straight games and through numerous injuries. Originally drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round in 2003, the hard-nosed player in many ways defined the saying “Play Like a Raven.”

But Johnson was more than just a player in Baltimore. He was a beloved member of the locker room.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs still refers to Johnson as his “brother.” The two shared a dorm room as rookies and admitted to becoming the Ravens’ odd couple. Suggs was boisterous while Johnson was blue collar.

Johnson still keeps in touch with Suggs (he especially reached out often after his Achilles tear) and exchanges texts with Paul Kruger and Haloti Ngata.

“It’s definitely going to be a little emotional to see him wearing a different color and playing for a different team,” Suggs said.

“So he’ll be my opponent, but that moment would only last a minute. He’s my opponent, and when the game is over, we’re going to hug, and we’re going to continue our relationship the way we had it.”

The Ravens have also missed Johnson on the field.

Suggs said that with Johnson, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed on the field, “me and Haloti [Ngata] got to just shut the [hell] up and play football.”

“He has a very high football IQ,” Suggs said of Johnson. “He did all the thinking for us.”

Johnson is having another solid season for the Chargers, who rank third in average rushing yards allowed in the NFL (87.9) partly because of his edge-setting abilities.

Meanwhile, the Ravens defense currently ranks 27th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing an average of (132.2 yards per game). Kruger, and then rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw stepped into Johnson’s shoes this season.

Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens wanted all their lost free agents from this offseason back, but “definitely wanted Jarret back.” Judging from what both sides said Wednesday, the contract numbers didn’t work out.

Harbaugh said it was a family and financial decision that Johnson couldn’t pass up. Johnson said he didn’t want to get into the money, “but it was clear that my time was over.”

“I wanted to finish my career there,” Johnson said. “But I kind of knew the writing on the wall going into the year the way Kruger was coming on, the way things were kind of working out, other guys’ contracts. You can’t pay everybody. I kind of expected it.”

Johnson still feels a bit awkward playing for another team, however, and Sunday’s game will be a “shock.” He said it was “really weird” watching the Ravens play the Steelers without him as he flew back from a game in Denver last Sunday.

But overall, Johnson is happy with his decision.

“Other than staying, I couldn’t have drawn up a better storyline for my career,” he said.

Johnson said the transition into San Diego’s locker room was easy, but that picking up the new system and an entirely foreign terminology was difficult early on. He’s feeling comfortable now.

He has 26 tackles and one sack/strip on the season, which came three weeks ago against Kansas City and was recovered for a fumble.

“Hopefully, our guys can keep him off of me as much as possible,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “Given our history and him being on this team, I think he will probably try to go as hard as he can.”

Johnson jokingly asked whether he would take it easy on his former teammates.

“If they take it easy on me [I will], but they ain’t going to do that,” Johnson said with a laugh. “So you’ve got to give it back.”

Johnson’s not the only former Ravens player soaking up the San Diego sun.

Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, cornerback Chris Carr, tackle Jared Gaither, fullback Le’Ron McClain and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin all now don the powder blues.

Gaither and Barnes in particular had good games against their former team in San Diego’s 34-14 beating of the Ravens last season.

Barnes notched a whopping four sacks. He also had two more tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. Barnes hasn’t been the same yet this season, however. He had 11 sacks last year, but only one so far this season.

Gaither had a good game against Baltimore last year, holding Suggs without a sack. Gaither (groin) hasn’t played the past two weeks and didn’t practice with the full team Wednesday.

“Last year, they had a couple of Ravens, and they ended up getting the best of us,” Suggs said. “They’ve got a few more this year, one in particular that was very close and dear to us. Now, he’s the enemy. We do look forward to seeing him on Sunday.”

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