Football

Texas WR Collin Johnson has high hopes; ‘I definitely want to be that elite guy’

DB P.J. Locke to be held out of the rest of spring drills; Tom Herman enthusiastic about LB Breckyn Hager

Posted April 10th, 2018

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The new season means a new, clean slate for everyone, coaches and players alike. Just what exactly will Collin Johnson do with his blank canvas in 2018?

“Clean slate. You’ve got to forget everything that happened last season,” Johnson said on Tuesday.

Physically, the Texas receiver is straight from central casting. He’s 6 feet, 6 inches tall. An athletic 215 pounds. An offensive coordinator’s dream and a defensive coordinator’s nightmare all rolled into one impressive frame.

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Except the statistics would indicate otherwise. Johnson had 765 receiving yards last season, good enough for 14th in the Big 12, and only two touchdown catches. Those are not elite receiver numbers. Look at his counterparts. West Virginia’s David Sills V had 18 touchdowns, Oklahoma State’s James Washington had 13 and Iowa State’s Allen Lazard reeled in 10.

“We can’t look back. We’ve got to look forward,” Johnson said. “That’s how you create a strong team and a successful season.”

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) and Texas Tech defensive back Damarcus Fields (23) attempt to catch a pass during a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Think back to last September. Johnson had 125 receiving yards against Maryland. He kept Texas in the game against USC with seven catches for 191 yards. He had 92 more against Kansas State. Then, the production started tailing off, and his consistency was called into question.

Texas coach Tom Herman is infatuated with Johnson’s potential, as anybody would be. But it’s that C-word again. “This is something I’ve been really thinking about,” Johnson said, who always addresses reporters with his arms behind his back, chest out, eyes up and brimming with confidence. Again, central casting.

“It’s not the coaches’ job to tell you how good you are,” Johnson said. “It’s their job to get you better. It’s not their job even to be your best friend. They just want to get you better. They care about you, and they say it from the bottom of their heart.

“But if he wants me to be more consistent, that’s something I’ve got to focus on and improve on.”

Johnson should benefit from better quarterback play, be it from Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele. Those two will should benefit from better offensive line play, although depth is a concern this spring. The whole group must work in unison for Johnson to become the elite player deep down he believes he can be.

“I definitely want to be that elite guy, but it’s taking it day by day,” he said. “I don’t want to worry too much about the future. I’ve got to worry about how I can get better in that film study, how I can get better on the practice field, how I can be a better teammate to my teammates, how I can be a better leader to some of the younger guys like Brennan Eagles and we’ve some more coming in.

“I think it’s all those little things stacked on top of each other, and that’s what I’m working on.”

Locke out: Defensive back P.J. Locke III suffered a neck injury during Saturday’s scrimmage, and Herman said the versatile safety will be held out the rest of spring practice. Tuesday’s workout was the 10th of 15, so there’s not too much left anyway.

“He’s good. It was a really bad stinger that we needed to go be sure,” Herman said. “If there’s a guy on that defense that can survive without four spring practices, it’s probably him.”

Also on Tuesday, Herman said cornerback Davante Davis rolled his ankle and did not finish practice.

The Longhorns are down to just eight scholarship offensive linemen this spring after Patrick Hudson and transfer Mikey Grandy got hurt. That position group along with linebacker has seen the most injuries this spring.

Texas defensive back P.J. Locke III celebrates a safety late in the fourth quarter against Missouri in the NCAA college football Texas Bowl game, at NRG Stadium Houston Texas. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Praise for Hager: Herman simply can’t contain his enthusiasm for linebacker Breckyn Hager.

“I thanked him today for how hard he practices,” Herman said. “Because of how hard he practices, he’s not just making himself better. He’s making (left tackle) Denzel Okafor better. He’s making (right tackle) Derek Kerstetter better. He’s making (tight ends) Andrew Beck and Reese Leitao better. I’m glad he’s on our team.”

This is Texas Tour: On Tuesday, the university announced a statewide, nine-city tour that will begin after spring football, one that’s similar to the “Coming On Strong” tour of 2014.

Herman said he hoped to attend every tour stop but guaranteed that a member of the football staff certainly will be there. The football coach also agrees with UT Athletic Director Chris Del Conte that school officials need to get out and get fans excited about the Longhorns’ brand again.

“I think he’s spot on,” Herman said. “We need to excite our fans and our constituents about where Texas athletics is heading. The best way to do that is go out and win a bunch of games. I get that.

“But we’ve also got to educate them that they’re a big part of whether we win games or not. The support, the home field advantage and the responsibility that our coaches and players feel toward our fan base, that’s real and it’s palpable.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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