Imagine you’ve spent most of your life learning to play the bass. All of a sudden, you’re given a big opportunity to join a popular rock band. You’re thrilled. You know you won’t blow this chance because you have the talent and will do what it takes to elevate your performance to the level of these professionals.
Only one thing. They want you to play guitar. “They’re basically the same thing,” the band manager says. But they’re not.
That’s the situation Fred Johnson found himself in last year on a team that lacked talent in guard. He was forced to move from his preferred position, tackle, and, as a result, put his career in Cincinnati in jeopardy.
However, Johnson made a case for himself late last season and has earned himself another opportunity this year.
Fred Johnson blasts open this hole on outside zone. Samaje Perine runs through contact and then puts on the jets for a big TD. Xavier Sua-Filo also with the nice reach and seal on the 4i. pic.twitter.com/zm2W7CLZJz— Sans (@bengals_sans) December 29, 2020
Hometown: West Palm Beach, FL
Experience: Three years
Johnson is on the last year of a 3-year, $1,770,000 deal that transferred to the Bengals after he was claimed off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers his rookie year. In 2021, he will earn a base salary of $850,000.
Johnson was a college free agent signing by the Steelers in 2019. He was inactive their first five games before getting cut and landing in Cincinnati. He ended up playing six games for the Bengals that season, starting one.
He had an up-and-down 2020 (didn’t we all?), allowing 5 pressures and 2 sacks on 491 snaps. But that actually wasn’t that bad considering the line on which he played. For instance, Bobby Hart allowed four times the amount of sacks on 380 more snaps. Michael Jordan, meanwhile, allowed 15 hits on 730 snaps.
But the most important factor to consider when evaluating Johnson is that his struggles were largely due to him being asked to play guard. He looked far better playing his natural position: tackle.
Johnson made a couple of eye-popping plays in Week 16 against the Houston Texans, convincing coaches that he does have a lot to offer when he is used properly. He was part of a line that allowed Brandon Allen to pass for 371 yards and Samaje Perine and Giovani Bernard to total 160 yards on just 29 carries.
It’s hard to know who exactly deserves credit for that coaching incompetence. A good deal of the blame has to go on former o-line coach Jim Turner. One thing is clear. Such chaos won’t be common under the outstanding new/old o-line coach Frank Pollack.
On a side note, Johnson is beloved by coaches and an overall delightful person, as evidenced in our interview with him, which you can watch below:
Outlook for 2021
Johnson probably won’t be a starter. Jonah Williams and Riley Rieff have those two positions pretty much locked down (barring injury). But Johnson could be one of the first guys off the bench to provide relief.
85%. On the depth chart, he will be behind Williams and Rieff and probably rookie D’Ante Smith as well. With Jackson Carman most likely moving to guard, that leaves Johnson with only Isaiah Prince to compete with for a spot as of right now. While it is possible the team picks up a veteran cap casualty or late round pick/college free agent who doesn’t make the final cut of another team, it seems that Johnson will get another chance as a swing tackle.