Johnson might finally get his chance to shine

Friday, October 22, 2021, Vol. 45, No. 43

Titans wide receiver Marcus Johnson seems a little closer to finding a home with the Titans after being with Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Seattle since entering the league in 2017.

-- Photo By Phelan M. Ebenhack | Ap

With A.J. Brown and Julio Jones as the focal points of the Titans passing game – they combined for 10 catches, 150 yards in Monday night’s 43-31 win against the Bills – it’s easy for other receivers to get lost in the shuffle.

But one player who has made the most of his opportunities – limited due to a hamstring injury – is Marcus Johnson, despite his light use Monday night.

Casual fans might not know much about Johnson, who is with his fourth organization in five years. Originally an undrafted rookie in 2017 with Philadelphia, Johnson spent one year there before landing with the Indianapolis Colts, where he spent three seasons bouncing back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad. In between his gigs in Philly and Indy, he was briefly a Seattle Seahawk, but never suited up there.

When the Titans signed him as a free agent in March, the transaction was an afterthought, given the bigger acquisitions to come at receiver, first with Josh Reynolds and, of course, the trade for Jones in June.

But in training camp, Johnson, who came into 2021 with 42 career receptions over four years, made a splash. With Brown, Jones and Reynolds all nursing various injuries in camp, Johnson suddenly was getting first-team reps with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and made the most of it.

Then, late in the preseason, Johnson’s bad luck returned in the form of a hamstring injury that would land him on injured reserve and shelve him for the first month of the regular season.

“Honestly, it was one of the best camps I’ve ever had, since I’ve been in the league, and that builds a lot of confidence,” Johnson says. “I think the coaches took that for what it was. “They said, ‘We might not have him for a few weeks, but he’s shown us what he can do.’”

For most, it would be a time to fret and wonder why. But Johnson, who describes himself as a devout Christian, tried to take it in stride and simply wait for another opportunity.

“It really wasn’t hard. I’ve grown so much in my faith that I just look at everything with a positive perspective,” Johnson explains. “Like, it wasn’t meant to be for me to be out there right there. Let me take care of my part while I’m on IR and be ready to come back.”

Johnson found an unusual blessing in the week of the New York Jets game. He was designated for return from IR, which meant he could practice with the Titans but not play. He used that time to get ready for his return, which came the following week against Jacksonville.

“I kind of attribute that to the first week where I got designated to return. That week of just practicing and not being able to play against the Jets, I think that time of being able to practice and get back in there really helped,” he says.

Then, with Jones still out with a hamstring injury of his own, Johnson was told before the Jaguars game that he would start and play extensively. He played 48 snaps in his return, catching three balls for 52 yards.

“Against Jacksonville, they ramped it up quick. They said, ‘Expect to start and play a lot.’ That was a big jump, but I was ready for it,” Johnson adds.

Tannehill took notice that the connection between the two in camp had not gone away during Johnson’s time off.

“It was great to have Marcus (Johnson) back out there. I was excited to get him back out there,” Tannehill says. “A guy who I got a lot of reps with in training camp and feel really confident throwing the ball to. He has a lot of ability and I think it showed up. His first game back, he didn’t really ease into it, he came out, played fast and had some huge plays for us. I’m excited to have him back.”

But not nearly as excited as Johnson is to be back and to finally have a consistent role as an NFL receiver.

“There was a lot of momentum in camp and I was looking forward to everything going in, but the injury happened,” he says. “But it was all God’s timing. I waited and I stayed patient and then when I got to get in against Jacksonville, I took advantage of it.

“It feels really good. This league is about consistency, longevity and availability. That’s my mindset. Taking everything in the last couple of weeks to get healthy, and to keep using it for the rest of the season and the rest of my career.”

Terry McCormick publishes and appears 2-4 p.m. weekdays on the George Plaster Show on WNSR-AM 560/95.9 FM.