Johnson anxiously awaiting call from NFL team|[04/28/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2007

Judging by the opinions of a handful of NFL Draft magazines, former Vicksburg High, McCall High and Ole Miss product Rory Johnson could be drafted anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round.

The 6-foot, 1-inch, 235-pound linebacker left Ole Miss after a junior season which saw him rack up the second most tackles on the team behind the Rebels’ All-America linebacker Patrick Willis. Willis is a first round lock and could go as high as the 11th pick to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Draft that begins today in New York. The draft will conclude on Sunday with the later round picks, which may include Johnson.

Johnson’s mother, Rebecca, says her son has been in contact with a number of teams.

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&#8220The Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars have talked to Rory,” Rebecca Johnson said. &#8220Since the end of December, Rory’s been in Atlanta, working out for different teams and just trying to get ready for the draft.”

Johnson, himself, was finally reached by phone Friday afternoon in Atlanta.

&#8220It’s been a whole lot of phone calls,” Johnson said. &#8220The Steelers, the 49ers, the (New York) Jets called me yesterday.”

While many observers thought he could’ve used another season at Ole Miss, Johnson said he does not regret the decision to go pro.

&#8220Not at all. I’m definitely glad I put myself up for the draft. I have to be a man about it and stick with my decision,” he said.

The Sporting News has Johnson rated as the No. 7 best outside linebacker, the highest of any of the major magazines. The News’ synopsis is an indicator of what NFL scouts think of his prospects.

&#8220Has Day 1 talent. Can cover tight ends all over the field. But he has too many off the field issues to be picked early,” the News’ wrote.

Street & Smith’s had a similar take.

&#8220Clearly has the ability to play in the pros but will need a patient coach to keep it simple and scheme around him so that he can produce in the pros,” Street & Smith wrote. The magazine listed Johnson as the 15th best outside linebacker and pegged him to go in the fifth round.

Johnson was also rated 15th by Pro Football Weekly News and ESPN the Magazine.

&#8220Could have used another year in school to mature,” Pro Football Weekly said.

Johnson dismisses the talk that his well-known academic troubles will hurt him in the pros.

&#8220The thing about the NFL is once the draft is done, you get started with learning about the team’s techniques in May at minicamp. And then there’s training camp. What people forget is that when I went to Ole Miss, I didn’t get to practice until the first day school started,” Johnson said.

&#8220I believe I can be a good player in the NFL. My agent has said I could go as early as the third round and if not, then definitely thereafter. I’m looking forward to it. I’m pretty anxious,” Johnson said.

Johnson has always been seen as a gifted athlete, possessing both speed and size.

&#8220One of the best I’ve ever had,” said Vicksburg High coach Alonzo Stevens. &#8220Just a great combination of speed and size.”

Johnson signed with Hinds Community College and was a two-year starter at linebacker for coach J. Mike Smith’s Eagles.

Johnson took enough credits during his last summer at Hinds to qualify for enrollment into Ole Miss. He was a late arrival to the team.

After Ole Miss was hammered by Wake Forest 27-3 in Oxford to drop to 1-4, Orgeron and his staff felt they needed Johnson on the field.

&#8220He’s an athlete who can make plays,” Orgeron said after the Wake Forest loss.

Johnson made Orgeron a believer two weeks later.

&#8220My second start – Vanderbilt,” Johnson said. &#8220Sixteen tackles, three forced fumbles, two recoveries.”

Johnson earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after his performance.