DJ Back in Action

Derrick Johnson

Two No. 21's returned to the field today. One was sixth-year receiver Pat Reddick, who chose to the new number when Zach Tuiasosopo moved from the defense to the offense bringing his number with him. The other 21 at Husky Stadium this morning was <b><a href=http://scout.TheInsiders.com/a.z?s=147&p=8&c=1&nid=306331&yr=2002>Derrick Johnson</a></b>, the third-year cornerback from Riverside, California who sat out last season while recovering from a badly broken foot.

The 6-foot, 185 pound redshirt-sophomore looked natural in his first day back to full-speed. Whether he returns to the level of play that he was at as a true freshman, when he was voted a second-team freshman All-American by the Sporting News, has yet to be seen, but he says these days the foot feels "pretty good."

The Huskies sorely missed Johnson in 2001, needing immediate contribution from true freshman Sam Cunningham and extended playing time from youngsters Chris Massey and Roc Alexander. Luckily, the team had senior Omare Lowe to rely on, and that they did as Lowe started 11 of 12 games.

That won't be the case this season. There are no seniors to speak at cornerback. Massey and Alexander hold the experience advantage as a juniors. Massey is seeking to get his confidence back after a forgettable Holiday Bowl, but may be the best cover corner the team has. Alexander's 4.2 speed makes the Colorado-native a likely starter at one of the corner positions, but nothing is guaranteed this time of year in Husky camp. Meanwhile, Cunningham has a year of valuable experience under his belt having played in 11 games in 2001. He will see extensive time again as a sophomore.

Make no mistake, there is experience there, it's just difficult to see because of the lack of upperclassmen. Derrick's one of the team's most athletic players, and knows it's going to be a dogfight to acquire one of the starting positions. Even so, he relishes in the fact that the competition will bring out the best in everybody.

"I think we are going to be really good," he said. "We have no seniors but we have a lot of experience. Most everyone has played."

"Since everyone has played, that just ups the competitions and ups everyone's game because they want that spot. Everyone plays harder." For now, day one of the season for veterans of the program like himself, Johnson is just glad to be back out there with the rest of the guys.

"It feels pretty good," he said, his body language showing all signs of relief. "I've been out a year and I'm just excited to be back out here. "They've got me on one-a-days right now, so that helps."

He talks about his redshirt season of 2001 almost like being at school. He calls it a "learning experience," noting how he was able to get a chance to see what all the other guys did and learn from their mistakes.

After six months on crutches and two more in a protective boot, Johnson wasn't given the go-ahead to run until the end of February. Since then, the endless hours of footwork and strengthening of his foot and ankle have paid off. He's back out on the field, now a full year after sustaining the injury in preseason workouts, and ready to go.

"I've got the concepts down," he said following Saturday's first practice, his first of the season. "It's just a matter of going out there and getting used to playing with the team again and picking up the speed."

Only time stands in his way.

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