Were it not for Al Davis odds are former Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson would be sitting at home right now hoping some NFL team might give him an invite to training camp in July. Instead he’s a reserve corner who could end up with a Super Bowl ring to show for his service with the Baltimore Ravens this season.
Almost five years ago Mr. Davis had seen enough from failed free agent signing DeAngelo Hall. Only halfway through the first season of a seven year deal Hall was released and an opportunity was created for Johnson a former undrafted free agent that had bounced around the league.
Not only is it unheard of for a 29-year-old corner to become a starter for the first time but earning a 3-year, $12-million deal is also extremely rare for someone who had only been making league minimum previously. But that’s exactly what Johnson did and that’s’ exactly how Davis rewarded him for his improved play in the absence of Hall.
As we all know Johnson went on to start opposite Nnamdi Asomugha before being leapfrogged by Stanford Routt then eventually suffering through a string of injuries that ultimately ended his time in Oakland. Sadly Johnson’s final season as a Raider was marked by the tragic death of his sister.
The team gave Johnson as much time as he needed to be with his family though he only missed a day of practice after it was all said and done. However it was the support of then head coach Hue Jackson, DBs coach Rod Woodson and Willie Brown as well that he’ll always be grateful for.
Currently Johnson is looking after his 14-year-old niece who in took in after his sister’s tragic passing. He’s also preparing for the biggest moment of his football life as a member of the Ravens.
When asked about his time in Oakland by Jerry McDonald, Johnson had some very telling comments about the difference between the leadership in Baltimore versus that which he saw in the East Bay.
“I’d put it like this, if you put Ray Lewis in the Oakland locker room, probably a good 20 people wouldn’t be on that team, because of the way Ray runs his ship, and manning up the guys. In Oakland the guys weren’t like that I mean, I’m not going to call no names, but the high guys you’re supposed to put the position on, they weren’t leaders, you talk a good game but they weren’t playing a good game.”
No real surprise there. Most every man that departs Oakland later makes similar comments. Now if you want an eye opening quote then check what Johnson had to say of Hue Jackson a coach he thinks should still be calling shots in Oakland.
“Hue was the best coach I had since I was out there. I mean, we went 8-8, we was a good, solid team, you could see the identity of the team.”
Let’s not turn this into a Dennis Allen bash fest but Johnson hit the nail on the head saying Hue’s team had an “identity”. That’s something this team lacked in 2012 for sure. Now one thing Johnson doesn’t lack at all is a supreme appreciation for what the Raiders and Mr. Davis did for his career.
“I’m very thankful for what Mr. Davis did for me. I love that organization, the organization was good to me and my family.”
Say whatever you will of Al Davis and his nature but right up until the end he was still giving people opportunities others simply wouldn’t. The end result is Johnson’s life being changed forever as his professional career peaks this Sunday when the biggest game he’ll ever be a part of starts.