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Irish insider: Johnson’s big play ability worries Irish

Ken Fowler | Friday, September 1, 2006

He’s bigger, he’s stronger and he’s got better hands than almost anyone in college football. Other than that, Georgia Tech junior Calvin Johnson is just a normal receiver.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound wide receiver was a second-team All-American in 2005 with 54 receptions for 888 yards. After just two years at Georgia Tech, Johnson is in the school’s all-time top-10 in career receptions (103), yards (1,725) and touchdown catches (13).

Notre Dame defensive backs coach Bill Lewis thinks Johnson is just as good as advertised.

“When you read the comments that the coaches there in the ACC make about him … he lives up to everything that’s been said,” Lewis said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s among the best receivers in college football.”

Lewis said Johnson’s combination of size and strength – along with his jumping ability – is something usually reserved for the NFL.

“He’s got a 45-inch vertical jump. You put that on top of a 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 guy – that’s what makes him play so big,” Lewis said. “You could be in perfect position. You could be in perfect position with two people. And he’ll go up and out-jump two people for the ball because he’s that kind of athlete.”

But wait, there’s more.

“He’s got unbelievable hands,” Lewis said. “He makes some catches that are circus catches. So you look at him and you say, ‘This guy lacks nothing as far as being a great receiver.'”

For Lewis’ defensive unit that is trying to demonstrate it is better than the 264.8 passing yards per game given up a season ago and the unit’s 617 yards surrendered to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Johnson creates quite the task.

“I think we have an awful lot to prove,” Lewis said. “[Johnson] will be one of the toughest physical receivers we will see all year.”

Lewis didn’t name the other receivers in that class.

Inconsistent?

Although unlike most receivers in many ways, Johnson may have a downside.

His 2005 season earned him national honors, but he was often criticized for being inconsistent.

Johnson was held to less than five receptions on eight occasions last fall. That alone, however, wasn’t always a bad thing for Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets lost 17-14 to North Carolina State last year when Johnson set personal records with 10 catches for 130 yards. His five catches and 108 yards also went to waste in a 27-17 loss to Virginia.

Still, Johnson’s sheer athletic ability scares opposing secondaries.

Irish cornerback Mike Richardson said one factor that could mitigate Johnson’s ability would be the receivers the Notre Dame defense faces in practice every day.

After Wednesday’s practice, Richardson compared Johnson to former Irish wide-out Maurice Stovall and senior All-American Jeff Samardzija.

“They’re similar receivers – big, physical guys,” Richardson said of Johnson and Stovall. “It’s helpful having guys like that – and Jeff – to practice against every day.”

While Samardzija said he hasn’t seen much of Johnson because he doesn’t want to be distracted from the opposing defense, another Irish wide receiver – Rhema McKnight – said he thinks highly of Johnson.

“He’s just a big guy, a big physical guy, [who] goes up and gets the ball,” McKnight said after Tuesday’s practice. “Hopefully throughout the work we’ve done during the off-season and heading into game week, the defense is ready.”

If it’s not, Johnson will make Notre Dame pay.