METAIRIE, La. — Rufus Johnson looks at the Saints’ defensive playbook and understands its difficulties and intricacies and knows he has a ways to go before he has it all covered.
He also believes that once he has it mastered, he could be pretty good.
But that’s not what drives him. That’s not what keeps him playing the game.
It’s his father, Rufus Johnson Sr., who is in the hospital battling an illness who keeps Rufus Jr., going with a full heart and a clear vision.
“When I do get to talk to my dad, I got a feeling I keep my father strong,” said Rufus Johnson Jr., who said only that his father is battling a diabetes-related health issue. “I’m the reason my father is still here. … I’m going to keep on pushing because I’m afraid I’m going to let some of my family down.”
Already he’s catching the eyes of his coaches and teammates.
“We’re playing this young kid from Tarleton State and changing positions is the first thing he doing,” Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “He has got a lot on his plate but talent-wise and physicality, this kid is going to be good.”
“I think as a pure pass rusher, you say, we’re not sure yet,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “But as an athlete, I think he has got everything you need to be successful.”
For now, Johnson is comfortable with the pass-rushing part of his new job as an outside linebacker. It’s the coverage part that needs work but once that’s down, watch out.
“I’ve got good athletic skills,” Johnson said. “I can rush passer pretty well. Once I get used to coverage-wise, I’ll be pretty good.”
Then why did he get passed up by 32 teams 7 times?