NFL: Johnson living up to big contract by Panthers
CHARLOTTEó Charles Johnson arrived at training camp in late July with a nickname befitting his enormous new contract.
The defensive end whom teammates promptly dubbed ěBig Moneyî after inking a $76.5 million contract is paying huge dividends this season for the Carolina Panthers.
Johnson, in his fifth season, is tied for sixth in the league with seven sacks, which gives him 15 over his last 15 games. Although the Panthers are just 2-6, Johnson has been a steadying presence on an otherwise injury-depleted defense.
ěHeís played extremely well and weíre getting our moneyís worth,î coach Ron Rivera said.
Johnson looks to continue his torrid play Sunday when the Panthers host the Tennessee Titans (4-4). But it wonít be easy as the Titans have allowed only 12 sacks this year, fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Rivera said that while Johnson has been solid, thereís still room for improvement.
If anything, he said Johnson needs to take measures not to do too much, something thatís not always easy for a player with a motor that simply doesnít stop.
ěThe thing is with him on occasion heíll try to more than he needs to do,î Rivera said. ěI told Charles, look, weíre not looking for you to be anything youíre not. Weíre expecting you to be the guy that youíve shown on tape. Thatís why you got the contract. We need a guy to be consistent, which he has been for the most part.î
Johnson, who just turned 25, admits he felt plenty of pressure coming into the season after becoming the teamís highest-paid player in terms of annual salary at $12.6 million per year.
ěNo doubt,î he said. ěYou donít want to get the check and then not perform.î
Johnson has performed.
Although his seven sacks pale in comparison to NFL leader Jared Allenís 12 1/2, Rivera said heís impressed that Johnson has made big plays at key moments.
And not all of them have been rushing the passer.
Johnson is an every down defensive lineman and takes pride in stopping the run. One of his bigger plays came when he darted in to stop a third-and-2 run late in the fourth quarter against Green Bay in week 2 giving the Panthers a chance to tie the game. However, the offense faltered and the Panthers lost 30-23.
ěWe talk about impact sacks ó do they come at the right time?î Rivera said. ěDo they come on the big drive? Do they come early in the game when youíre setting the tone or do they come when you have a 21-point lead? If you go back and look at his, his impact sacks and impact plays on short-yardage runs, thereís something there. Thatís why you keep a guy like that and invest that kind of money in him.î
Johnson will have his hands full this week against the Titans left tackle Michael Roos.
Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said heíll be aware of where Johnson is on the field at all times, calling his string of sacks ěridiculously impressive.î
Johnson emerged on the scene last year in his first full season as a starter following Julius Peppersí departure.