Tuesday, June 5, 2007

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

While the Rams were busy making an already potent offense more dangerous in the offseason, one defensive signing flew under the radar.

On the same day (March 12) that St. Louis signed talented tight end Randy McMichael, it also added safety Todd Johnson in an “oh, by the way” pickup.

But Johnson wasn’t worried h about the lack of attention paid to his signing. He’s used to be underestimated and overlooked. With a quiet confidence befitting a player who has spent most of his relatively young NFL career as a special teams specialist, Johnson comes to St. Louis hoping for the best and focusing on surprising everyone.

“It’s your job to make it so they can’t take you off the field,” Johnson said.

Coach Scott Linehan had a certain vision for what Johnson’s role will be upon his arrival in St. Louis, but just because that’s how he sees it now, doesn’t mean it won’t change.

It appears the Rams’ starters are all set at safety with the emergence of Oshiomogho Atogwe at free and the stability of Corey Chavous at strong.

“He also understands his role,” Linehan said. “He knows his role is to be the best backup safety that he can be and also one of the most explosive special teams players you have on your roster.”

Although Johnson is expected to handle the role of the team’s top backup at safety and one of the core special teams players, he has his sights set on more.

For the first four seasons of his career, Johnson spent time learning under Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. After sitting out the first season, Johnson became integral to one of the best special teams units in the league and also found himself in the mix defensively.

He played in all 16 games in 2004, racking up 75 tackles and followed with 35 stops in 2005 and 32 in 2006. Along the way, he was used on all special teams units and filled in admirably for injured starter Mike Brown at safety.

And though Johnson wasn’t a big name, he did catch the eye of one of his opponents along the way. While working as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings, Linehan took notice of the young safety playing for the Bears.

“Todd’s another guy who, when you coach in this league long enough, you are going to have experience coaching against some of these guys that are free agents,” Linehan said. “Todd was in Chicago when I was at Minnesota and started games against us when I was there. He was always a very good special teams player, someone you always had to block. To see a guy that also has the ability to go in if something happens to your starting safeties and really play well gives you the dimension you want.”

Given his previous knowledge of Johnson, it was no real surprise that Linehan made adding him to the roster a priority in the offseason. More difficult, however, was the decision for Johnson to leave the only team he has ever played for.

Johnson only knew Chicago and he loved it. Last year, he nearly reached the pinnacle of the NFL, falling just short in the Super Bowl against Indianapolis. He had also been a part of a record breaking special teams performance by returner Devin Hester.

The Bears showed interest in bringing Johnson back and he visited and chatted with a couple of other teams before coming to the difficult decision that his career in Chicago was over.

“I made a lot of friends there, and to see that team grow the way it did and turn into a contender was something fun to be a part of,” Johnson said. “But I'm excited about the change.”

Coming to St. Louis was far from a landslide. Leaving a team that was on the cusp of a championship for a team that finished 8-8 is never an easy choice. But Johnson believes the potential to do what Chicago did last year is there in St. Louis.

“They were 8-8 last year and finished strong,” Johnson said. “A few plays here and there, and they were in the playoffs