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Linebacker Jarret Johnson* *might be one of the least recognizable faces on the Ravens' roster, but considering his production on the field and leadership in the locker room, he is definitely one of the team's most invaluable pieces.
After a stellar 2009 campaign, Johnson watched as a potential first Pro Bowl honor went to more household names.
Regardless of the fact that he established himself as a big-time playmaker, Johnson is not concerned with personal accolades.
"It's always good to have respect, but as long as I have the respect of my teammates and opponent, that's enough for me," said Johnson. "I appreciate the notice in the league, but I understand that a lot of it is a popularity contest. There are tons of Baltimore fans that don't know who I am."
As Johnson prepares to return to Baltimore and participate in the Ravens' voluntary offseason conditioning program, fans may want to start reserving their purple No. 95 tops. Last year, Johnson placed third on the team with 70 tackles, logged six sacks (second), and two interceptions (third).
That was also a season where he did not miss a start despite painful injuries in both shoulders, a bad back and a tweaked knee.
Johnson embodies what Charm City – and the Ravens – stands for, characteristics head coach John Harbaugh* *calls to mind when asked about "Double J."
"Double epitomizes what the Ravens are, whether he would look at it tdhat way or not," said coach Harbaugh. "He's genuine. He's going to tell you what he thinks and wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he's not afraid to mix it up and get into a confrontation. But, he's humble enough to get better.
"Nobody practices harder; nobody studies more. The guy is one of the toughest human beings I've ever been around in my life."
A classic Ravens story, Johnson was a 285-pound defensive tackle out of the University of Alabama. Providing depth along the line for two years, the Ravens experienced a rash of injuries during the 2005 season.
As a result, then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan approached the fourth-round draft pick about a possible position change, which would have required a loss about 15 pounds and a complete change in mechanics, such as learning how to drop in coverage.
Johnson never blinked.
"I was a nose tackle, so [dropping] was really foreign to me," said Johnson. "What helped me out was being on scout team. Teams only have so many players, so you'd have to always be out there. Since we were a 3-4 team, they would tell me to play outside 'backer because we just needed a body. Slowly, I just learned how to do it. Even with that, in Rex's defense, everybody has to learn how to do everything. You just pick things up."
If that sounds simplistic, it is Johnson's way. Self-deprecating and thoughtful, nothing is too big or too small for Johnson. The reigning Ravens Media Good Guy – an award voted on by Baltimore reporters every year for his cooperation with the media – Johnson is understated when talking about his dramatic transformation.
"They just realized I was a better linebacker than a defensive lineman. I can maintain this weight at 270 a lot better," Johnson said. "I'm not built like a bodybuilder, by any means, but I do understand what to eat when you need to cut weight or gain weight. I'm going through that right now."
Johnson points to fellow lunch-pail guys like Kelly Gregg and Marques Douglas as examples he wanted to follow early in his career.
"You had Kelly Gregg, a short-little guy that had been on two different teams, Marques Douglas, who played in Europe for a couple of years," Johnson noted. "I thought, 'If these guys can do it, I can do it.'
"With me, I think the young guys see someone who came up from the bottom. I was a late-round pick and came up through the gutter. When you see guys like that, it's inspiring."
As for the coming year, Johnson hopes to further build his reputation league-wide… perhaps city-wide, as well.
But, if Johnson can still go unnoticed at the grocery store in Baltimore, it won't be anything he isn't used to.
Even as the first two-time captain in Alabama's storied football history, he still remains anonymous back home.
"I was a fairly popular guy as a captain, but I'm not ever going to go down as the best D-lineman they've had," Johnson said with a laugh. "Being on the line makes you kind of invisible. I live down in Alabama, and it's extremely rare for me to get recognized anywhere.
"The last time that happened? It had to be somebody that I knew."