Toby Johnson flips for playing time

semerson@macon.comAugust 8, 2013 

End Toby Johnson (88) goes through a drill during Georgia's practice Friday, Aug. 2, 2013.

TOBY JOHNSON — UGA sports communications

ATHENS - Toby Johnson showed up for his first interview as a member of the Georgia football team, and it should be noted that he did not do a standing back-flip onto his chair.

Johnson did do that a month ago, and the video of that went mini-viral, since you don't see many 300-plus pounders do handsprings, especially less than a year after having ACL surgery.

"I had been telling them I can dunk, I can flip, and all that," Johnson said, then recounted his new teammates' reaction: " 'Boy, stop all that storytelling and stuff.' I'm like, OK, I'm gonna see how my leg holds up in drills and stuff, and if it holds up good I'm gonna put it on camera."

So it did hold up during some summer workouts, and on a Sunday in July he decided to do it. Johnson and a few teammates walked into a clearing outside their dorm.

"When we got out there, I was shaking scared," Johnson said.

But he pulled it off, and the rest is Twitter/vine history. Freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins put it on his Instagram account, and it was soon on YouTube (embedded above), picked up by various sports and college football web sites.

"I didn't know it was gonna go like that," Johnson said.

The feat of athleticism was a good sign that his knee feels fine. Johnson said he's still getting treatment every day on the knee, but otherwise he feels like he's 100 percent.

But how does that ability apply to actually playing the defensive line?

"I've been pretty much athletic all my life. I used to be a basketball player. That right there helped me," he said. "Most guys like my size really bull-rush. I think I can work the A-to-B a lot."

Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said earlier this week that "Toby Johnson's kicking butt right now," and reports from other players have been strong.

Johnson, who said he's now 312 pounds, said he's getting "a great amount of reps" in practice, but said he's been told not to say where he is on the depth chart. He did say he's been mostly at defensive end, rather than nose tackle, which he said surprised him. He figured he would be strictly a nose.

"I think they're gonna keep cross-training me, and then go from there. I think I'm that type of D-linemen anyway that can be able to play every position on the D-line," he said.

Some other notes from interviews with a few of the defensive rookies:

- Safety Shaquille Fluker, a junior college transfer, said he's been working a lot with the first-teamers at strong safety.

- Johnson said the offensive linemen who stands out the most to him is junior Watts Dantzler, who is trying to get in the discussion at guard.

"You don't really get too many guards who are 6-9, no matter how tall they are," Johnson said. "I have a hard job getting around him. Basically with Watts I have to bull through him."

- Freshman cornerback Brendan Langley, who along with Shaq Wiggins figures to get some playing time:

"Whether or not I thought I was going to get early playing time, I'm doing the same preparation I would've done if I was at Alabama or somewhere I wouldn't play until my sophomore or junior year," Langley said. "The preparation's the same. I try to go hard in everything I do."

- This isn't the first time Fluker and receiver Jonathan Rumph have faced off. The two were on opposing junior college teams, which Fluke mentioned.

"We did good against them," Fluker said. "But Rumph is a great physical player."

- There are two Shaqs in the secondary, so in an effort to keep it clear, UGA has decreed that one (Fluker) will go by Shaquille, and another (Wiggins) will go by Shaq. But this has still led to some confusion.

"When I was back in JUCO I was all right with them calling me Shaq because we didn't have another one there," Fluker said. "But when we got here, I was like, Y'all can call me Shaquille since my roommate is Shaq. ... So when they call him Shaq, even though I'll be looking, they'll be like: 'No we're talking to him.' And then when they say Shaquille I don't look."

Fluker is starting to give up, and is asking teammates and coaches to call him 'Fluke,' which is what he was often called back home.

- Speaking of names, junior Kennar Johnson actually goes by K.J.

"The only people who really call me by my first name is my family," he said.

(And the media.)

- Johnson joined the ranks of teammates with praise for freshman receiver Reggie Davis.

"Reggie, I believe if he keeps his head up and keeps pushing he'll be a great player," Johnson said. "He's one of the fastest players in college as a freshman."

- Freshman tailback A.J. Turman is also one to watch on offense, according to Johnson.

"He's a big back. He's gonna keep pushing," Johnson said. "You might think you've got him down, but he's gonna keep trucking."

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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