Leon Johnson isn’t exactly a prototypical offensive lineman.
He’s a 6-foot-5, 315-pound yoga-bending, dreads-wearing, basketball-dunking offensive tackle.
And while he won’t need those specific skills (or great hair!) on the field, some flexibility and spring from a lineman certainly won’t be discouraged by the coaches.
“Oh yeah, once I learned the benefits of yoga, I was 100 percent on board,” Johnson said, adding that he began including yoga in his weekly workout regimen during college and has continued since.
But when it comes to his mindset about football, Johnson is every bit the prototype because his love for the sport stems from his love of the teamwork required.
No other position on the team really requires so much dependence on one another for the job to get done right.
“We have to depend on each other to get our job done,” he said, noting that so many other positions depend on them getting it right too. “If communication is off from one player, that can spoil the entire play. We absolutely have to be in sync.”
It’s somewhat poetic then that the former high school basketball player, who also played defensive end in high school, loves playing a position for a unit that is perhaps the most undervalued by the average football-loving fan — the O-Line.
He loves it because it’s the teamwork aspect he likes most about the sport overall.
“I love the camaraderie of playing football — that aura of being around other people working toward the same goal,” he said. “You just don’t get that anywhere else.”
And he doesn’t even mind that fans typically like to blame the line for poor offensive performances or overlook its role in helping an offense achieve a game-changing play.
“The novice fan watches the run, throw or catch,” Johnson says, and adds with a laugh, “and when one of those three things don’t happen right, then fans are like, ‘who are these [o-line] guys?’”
With any luck, Johnson hopes to be one of the names fans do know for the Broncos’ offensive line — even if not right away. Draft Analyst gave the Temple tackle high praise for his strength and ability to “fire off the snap into blocks” and “turn defenders from the action to open up running lanes.”
I’ll be interviewing rookie tackle @HTLJ53 later today, but in the meantime, here’s @MileHighReport’s #RosterReview of the former Temple OT. https://t.co/ZlxA6x8So5— Doctor of Words (and tights) (@docllv) June 20, 2018
The undrafted rookie who will don the No. 63 jersey knows his chances of making the 53-man roster this season are probably small, but he’s not even worrying about that.
“I don’t look at the numbers,” he said. “I have no doubt that if I come in and try to do everything right and I give 100 percent effort, then good things will happen.”
And for Johnson, doing “everything right” means a lot of listening and watching right now.
“I have been taking it all in,” Johnson said of the offseason work through rookie minicamp, OTAs and the three-day mandatory minicamp just before the July break.
He plans to do the same when training camp starts up at the end of the month.
“My goal is to listen and watch and emulate,” Johnson said, adding that veteran guard (and also a former UDFA in 2012) Ronald Leary spent time giving him tips on his technique and 2017 first-round pick Garett Bolles has regularly gone over plays and quizzed Johnson about the right move.
It struck Johnson right away that with his new Broncos teammates, there was “not much rookie stuff yet”— mostly just business and getting down to winning.
Being the best starts with learning the playbook, which Johnson says has been “a gift” because the concepts are the same as his college scheme, just with different terminology. Becoming the best you can be also means being willing to be coached.
“Everybody here is the best of the best, and I’m just watching every player at my position to learn whatever I can,” Johnson said.
The New Jersey native who grew up a NY Jets fan has really enjoyed getting to know the Denver community and Broncos Country. He participated with the other rookies in the Broncos’ Rookie Day of Service, which included serving meals at a food kitchen and hanging out with kids at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver.
As a former college team captain at Temple who regularly participated in community service efforts around campus and the city, Johnson has always had a heart for helping.
Whether it’s blocking to create a lane for a running back or giving kids at Children’s Hospital a little hope, Johnson is down for it.
“I mean, I just don’t see too many other reasons to be on this planet,” he said about his platform as an athlete to speak up and help create change. “We’ve got to help each other.”