'Two-Star' Johnathon Johnson staying consistent for UT Vols

'Two-Star' Johnathon Johnson staying consistent for UT Vols

August 13th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee tight end Johnathon Johnson (81) runs way from Kentucky's Blake McClain (24) after a second-half catch in an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - There are the budding sophomore standout, the dazzling junior college transfer and the five-star freshman.

Then there's Johnathon Johnson, the receiver Tennessee coaches and players affectionately call "Two-Star."

"When I hear that," the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Johnson said after Tuesday's practice, "I kind of just laugh. It comes from me coming out of high school and not having any offers. It's something funny to me.

"I try to come out there every day with a chip on my shoulder and definitely try to prove what I can do every day."

The moniker is a new one for the diminutive slot receiver, who was the other part of junior college receiver Kameel Jackson's commitment to Tennessee last summer. The Volunteers were desperate for immediate help at wideout, and, well, Johnson was available.

A consensus three-star recruit out of high school, Johnson piled up more than 4,000 rushing yards and scored 34 touchdowns in his career at Friendswood High School in Texas before landing at Blinn College, where former Auburn star Cam Newton played.

In his lone season, Johnson compiled 68 of 69 receiving yards in one of his four appearances and totaled 127 return yards on one kickoff and four punt returns.

In 10 games for the Vols in 2013, Johnson caught 13 passes for 189 yards, and he'll certainly be in the rotation of receivers this season.

"The best compliment I can give him -- and you guys probably know what I'm going to say -- is his consistency," said Vols coach Butch Jones. "He brings it every day. He's worked himself into being a good football player. We call him 'The Two-Star.' It's a great illustration [that recruiting] stars don't mean anything.

"He's got a drive to be great. He's got the inner drive. He works every day and doesn't say two words. He shows up to work every day and makes plays for us. He takes coaching. Coach Z [receivers coach Zach Azzanni] tells him one thing, and that's it. He never makes the same mistakes twice, so I've been very, very happy with Johnathon."

Johnson turned a short pass into a touchdown and snagged another touchdown in one 11-on-11 period Tuesday.

"The main thing off the field is taking care of my body and watching film," he said, "so when I go out there I know exactly what the defense is going to do. That's really the main thing I try to do off the field. That makes me consistent on the field."

Worley adds confidence

Quarterback Justin Worley took all of the first-team repetitions during a series of two-point plays and red-zone team work Tuesday, while Nathan Peterman and Josh Dobbs, in that order, split second-team reps.

On Johnson's catch-and-run score, Worley went through all of his progressions and was about to scramble when he hit Johnson wide open in the flat on what was nearly a lateral.

"I see Justin continually gaining confidence, practice in and practice out," Jones said.

Receiver Marquez North echoed the coach's words.

"He's very confident," he said. "We preach confidence. He's a leader of our team, and he's very confident with a lot of the things he does."

Robertson shining

Guard Dylan Wiesman has missed most of preseason practice, and starting center Mack Crowder has been absent two straight sessions, causing a shuffled offensive line in practice this week.

Junior college transfer Dontavius Blair and redshirt freshman Brett Kendrick each got first-team work at left and right tackle ahead of usual first-teamers Jacob Gilliam and Coleman Thomas.

With Crowder out, Kyler Kerbyson slid from right guard to center, and freshman Jashon Robertson took over Kerbyson's old spot. The 6-3, 304-pounder out of Nashville began camp at defensive tackle, but Jones said Robertson "continues to shine" during what he called a "smooth transition" to offense.

"The move over from defense to offense has been big for us," the coach said. "He plays with pad level. He's very, very instinctive, and he's very, very intelligent, and he's tough. I know our defense wants him back as well, but he's doing a great job for us in the offensive line right now.

"When we recruited him, that's what we knew: We knew he had value on both sides of the ball."

Safety surge

Todd Kelly has taken only second-team reps during the open periods of practice, but the freshman safety may not be second-team much longer.

"I've been really excited about TK," Jones said. "TK has that competitiveness that you look for. He wants to be on all special teams, and he's making plays for us. TK's an individual that's continuing to get better and better and better, so I'm really excited about him."

Tennessee tidbits

There were a couple of bad snaps by Kerbyson and freshman Ray Raulerson during the open period of Tuesday's practice, which prompted Jones to say his centers "have to take a major step moving forward." ... Jones also said linebacker Chris Weatherd "has his own separate package" within Tennessee's defense. ... According to Jones, the Vols have not had a player late for a single team meeting this training camp, and there were 25 players waiting in the lobby of the hotel where the team is staying this week at 5:45 on Tuesday morning ready to be in the training room when it opened at 6 a.m. ... Jones on freshman safety Cortez McDowell: "He brings another element to the safety position: big, strong, physical and very, very smart."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.