Countdown: Converting from DT to LB


In the days leading up to the NFL Draft, takes a look at some of the successes from the Ravens' scouting department. On Tuesday, it was fifth-round draft pick Dawan Landry.


In the fourth round of the 2003 draft, linebacker Jarret Johnson is the choice.

Who knows what would have become of **Jarret Johnson’s** career had the Ravens not picked him.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, Johnson came out of the University of Alabama as a 280-pound defensive tackle, enjoying a successful collegiate career anchoring the Crimson Tide's defensive line.

Fast forward six years, and here he is in the body of a 265-pound linebacker, rushing off the edge to pursue the quarterback or dropping in coverage to mirror a tight end.

While Johnson may look different from his amateur days, the Ravens believe Johnson is still the same player.

"He had the right mentality," said Baltimore Director of Player Personnel **Eric DeCosta**, who led the initial scouting of Johnson. "When we talked with Jarret, the things that came out were work ethic and passion for the game. Above all else, there was football intensity.

"We knew this was a guy that would maximize his ability as a player, regardless if he's not the most gifted guy from the gene pool. That's what he would always do - overachieve. He was really one of those glue guys on our roster."

From the start, Johnson has seen his role evolve. The Ravens originally had him playing end as a rookie in Mike Nolan's defense. That year, he saw action from scrimmage in four games, totaling 18 tackles.

The next season, it was 30 tackles, and even though he was still playing with a hand in the dirt, the transformation to linebacker began to take shape.

By 2005, Johnson had trimmed his excess weight and stepped into a supporting role behind incumbent starter Adalius Thomas at outside linebacker when Rex Ryan took over as defensive coordinator.

"He played really hard, even though he wasn't the strongest guy inside and got pushed around a little bit," DeCosta noted. "He had a great motor and brought it every single play. We projected him to defensive end, and that's what he played when he first came here.

"It wasn't long after that when we said, 'You know what? This guy could be an outside linebacker.' That's when he began changing his body. He lost weight and got faster by working on his speed and quickness. Jarret really developed as a linebacker that could cover and play in space."

He developed so well, however, that when the Ravens had to make a choice between retaining Thomas, who was coming off a Pro Bowl campaign in 2006, or promote Johnson to the first team, No. 95 got the nod.

Thomas went on to sign a lucrative free agent contract with the New England Patriots, where he has totaled 112 tackles in 25 games.

Starting every game over the past two years, Johnson boasts 176 stops and is steadily improving.

"Initially, we knew he had some pass rush ability, but we felt he had the size and strength to become a guy that could set the edge, play the run, while still running with a tight end," said DeCosta. "It was a gradual process. He got better and better and better, to the point to where it came down to him or Adalius Thomas. It was apparent that Jarret was a less expensive choice but an equal player."

As the only two-time captain in Alabama history, Johnson's character and accountability were obvious to most teams.

But being an undersized defensive tackle, no matter if his 23 sacks rank second on the Tide's all-time list, probably kept a lot of those teams from drafting him.

The Ravens are very happy they saw something special.

"When looking at guys, being a captain, a vocal leader, that's a good predictor of what they're going to be like in the NFL," DeCosta explained. "We saw a real drive to succeed. He didn't necessarily fit into a position for most teams, so he wasn't a plug-in guy.

"I give our coaches a lot of credit for working with Jarret, and I give a lot of credit to Jarret for becoming the player that he is."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content