Commentary

DeCock: Pack's other cornerback Johnson likely to be tested early, often

ldecock@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2012 

— One side of the field belongs to David Amerson. Interception record-setter. Scourge of ACC quarterbacks. N.C. State’s human pass vacuum.

Maybe some teams will tempt fate and throw Amerson’s direction. More likely, most won’t. Either way, it’s fine with Dontae Johnson, a junior cornerback who figures to be a busy man this fall, playing opposite Amerson for the Wolfpack.

“If teams want to test him, that’s other teams,” Johnson said.

Other teams like Louisville, which decided to throw Amerson’s way in the Belk Bowl last year. Amerson added two interceptions in that game to finish with an ACC-record 13.

If any of N.C. State’s opponents this year were paying attention, they may think twice before going that route. And the one quarterback in the country who is guaranteed not to throw a pass Amerson’s way thinks they may have a pretty good chance of avoiding him.

“He’s 6-3 and wears the No. 1,” N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon said. “I think he’s pretty easy to find.”

That just means more work for Johnson. A converted safety who played extensively last season in nickel packages, and will continue to move inside in nickel situations this season, Johnson will be tested in the opener by Tennessee’s 6-foot-6 quarterback Tyler Bray, who has a big arm and bigger receivers, one 6-4, the other 6-3.

Amerson plays the “field” cornerback position, taking the wide side of the field, covering more ground. Johnson will play the “boundary” side, the short side of the field, where he’s more likely to face the kind of hard, short passes Tennessee’s Bray excels at, placing even more pressure on his debut.

But with his size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), football IQ and athleticism – Johnson played basketball in high school in New Jersey – defensive backs coach Mike Reed thought he had all the attributes necessary to make the move work.

“His football IQ is better than a lot,” Reed said. “That’s what allows him to play inside or outside. He’s been on slot receivers. It’s a lot easier going from the slot to the outside than it is going from the outside to the inside. He’s done a good job. He can run. He has great hips. He has good feet. I feel very confident on Dontae out on the edge.”

N.C. State tried C.J. Wilson and Rashard Smith in that position last year but were never completely satisfied with the results. (Smith has since moved back to wide receiver, where he started last season.) Wilson is back, and Jarvis Byrd returns after missing last season with a knee injury, but the other reserves at the position are a pair of redshirt freshmen.

So at this point, avoiding Amerson is most of the time going to mean targeting Johnson. He is not under any illusions about what this means.

“I know a lot of teams are probably going to end up testing me,” Johnson said. “That’s something I’ve prepared for.”

Other teams are preparing for Amerson … and the other guy. Johnson is the other guy, although he should have more than enough chances to make opponents worry about him, too.

DeCock: luke.decock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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