KNOXVILLE – Brandon Johnson saw football from a different angle last season and believes that he’s better for the viewing.
The Tennessee wide receiver took a redshirt season, enabling the Vols to have more returning experience this year. Otherwise, he would’ve departed with Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings and left the ranks light on veterans.
“I’m definitely confident it will be the right decision for me,” Johnson said last week during a Zoom teleconference.
“It wasn’t just a decision for myself, it was a decision for my team. I felt like I’d be better suited to help my team out this year, and I don’t regret anything. So I’m pretty excited.”
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Johnson has returned with three seasons worth of experience. The son of former Major League catcher Charles Johnson has 60 career receptions for 738 yards and one touchdown in 37 games. He has nine starts and two career 100-yard games.
Johnson played the first four games of last season before redshirting. He scooped up a punt blocked by Tyler Byrd and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown against Chattanooga on Sept. 14.
“I think that the time off really just helped me take a step back and look at the game from the outside in, so to speak,” he said. “It really allowed me to kind of get my game in order as far as mentally, really mentally. Working on the physical aspect as well, routes. You can never stop working in the game of football. There’s so much you can do to improve yourself, rather it be mentally or physically, so I’ve just been working all around.”
Johnson’s presence might turn to be more valuable, considering the ongoing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than two dozen players quarantined because of contact tracing protocol and another seven or eight players sidelined with the virus, the Vols were down to 30 offensive players for a practice earlier this month.
“It has been very tough to create some chemistry on that side of the ball, whether it is the O-line, running backs or wide receivers, ” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said last week. “I feel like these guys have continued to improve. It has been exciting for me to watch them do that because they’ve had some adversity during this camp and I’m sure there will continue to be adversity throughout the season.”
Given the circumstances, Johnson is aware that his leadership matters as much as his performance.
“You have to be conscious of how you carry yourself and what kind of effort you’re giving,” he said. “You can’t really tell anybody to do anything that you aren’t doing yourself.”
Moving up: Although Tennessee isn’t scheduled to play until Sept. 26 at South Carolina, the Vols made a big jump in two national polls.
They rose 10 spots to No. 15 in the Associated Press poll. They went from the first team out in the coaches’ poll to No. 17. Both polls only feature teams playing this fall.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.