September 9, 2009

Rahway's Johnson beginning to tap immense potentia

EAST LANSING - After sitting out the 2007 season as a non-qualifier and languishing on the depth chart at defensive end in 2008, Rahway (N.J.) High School's Ishmyl Johnson got his first taste of playing time in Spartan Stadium last Saturday against Montana State.

Like many young players on the Spartan roster, Johnson was a bit overwhelmed as he ran out of the tunnel to the applause of 74,000 plus fans in Spartan Stadium, but the 6-foot-5, 280-pound nose tackle quickly settled down after making contact with Montana State's center during his first play in relief of third-year starter Oren Wilson.

Johnson is still learning the nuances of the nose tackle position. There are even occasions when fundamentals escape him. But the former prep basketball star infuses Michigan State's interior defensive line with potential, and Johnson is working hard to measure up to the demands of veteran defensive line coach Ted Gill and his coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

In Michigan State's first game, Johnson was one of five interior defensive linemen in a rotation that should grow to six when Marshall's Kevin Pickelman fully recovers from the bumps and bruises that slowed him down during the second half of training camp.

If he follows Gill's instruction, tightens up his technique, lowers his pad level, and continues to develop as the understudy to a veteran like Wilson, Johnson could develop into an X-factor for his team.

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