That’s what makes one of the more unheralded picks the very late seventh rounder from the University of South Carolina, center T.J. Johnson so intriguing. For some, Johnson was in the conversation as a late rounder before the start of the 2012 NCAA football season, largely because the rise of Marcus Lattimore indirectly shed some light on his offensive linemen, but it’s surprising that Johnson wasn’t in the discussion more often. Coming out of Aynor High School, SC, Johnson was named the 13th best center in the nation in 2008 at the age of 17. After red shirting his freshman year, Johnson played in every game of his four-year collegiate career, which was a record for the Gamecocks. Another important note is that while as a senior Johnson was named to the All-SEC second team this past year, he was also named to the All-SEC first team in 2010 when South Carolina went 9-5 and won the SEC-East with names like Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore on the roster.
What probably are his most attractive quality for this renaissance Bengals locker room are his academic abilities and his leadership. At 6’6”, 320 lbs, Johnson is notably the most imposing center on the Bengals roster, but as an SEC Academic Honor Roll member for four straight years as well as a team captain and the leader of the Gamecocks’ offensive line, there really is no reason why he shouldn’t compete for the starting position right away… but why rush it? At 22 years of age, Johnson still has to work on sinking his size and condensing his wingspan in order to stay inside blocks and avoid holding calls, which is something that Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander will tighten up quickly. Even still, unless Robinson or Cook significantly steps up their game, Johnson could find himself a second-string understudy much sooner rather than later. His signing with the Bengals yesterday for $2.2M with a $45K bonus may be heralding that the Bengals are thinking something similar.