There is a directness about Jermaine Johnson when he speaks that matches the direct path he might take to a ball coming off a punter's foot or out of a quarterback's grasp. In effect says, "That was pretty good, but it can be better."
For instance, Johnson was asked at the end of the season how his second year for the Green & White went.
"It was all right," he said, then after a pause, "not my standard."
What exactly is the Johnson standard?
"That's the thing. Every time I think I've reached it, I just keep pushing," he said. "So I don't know. I just keep pushing my limits, and by the time it's all said and done, I know I would've done the best I could."
It's instructive to see where Johnson has come and where he may be going by looking at his career arc from college till today. From a part-time contributor to Georgia's defense in 2019-20, he transferred to Florida State and erupted with 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 12 games. That propelled him toward becoming the 26th overall selection by the Jets in the '22 draft.
Then the process began anew. Johnson began learning the pro ropes as a rookie member of the Jets' front-seven rotation with 14 games, no starts, 312 defensive snaps and 2.5 sacks. This past season, JJ became a full-time 17-game starter with 747 D-snaps and 7.5 sacks, second on the team behind only DL Bryce Huff.
With that kind of year two leap, Johnson was asked if he felt a little overlooked as the third of the Jets' three first-rounders in '22 behind CB Sauce Gardner and WR Garrett Wilson, not to mention second-round RB Breece Hall.
"It didn't bother me," he said. "Those are my brothers. They deserved every ounce of that. So I never looked at it like, aw, man, nobody's looking at me. What comes my way is meant for me, what doesn't, isn't. And it's my job to make sure I get the best out of myself for these guys in this locker room."
Johnson's best was on display a number of times during his sophomore NFL season. In the win over Philadelphia, he batted three Jalen Hurts passes, one in the backfield for an incompletion and two into the hands of Jets teammates for interceptions. The next week he contributed to the overtime win over the Giants with his first two-sack game plus four QB hits. He had 1.5 sacks and 3 QBHs against Atlanta five weeks later.
Then came the scoring phase of his season. He blocked Tress Way's punt from the Washington end zone to set up the Jets' first TD against the Commanders. And the next week he performed another phenomenal pass defense, this time batting Joe Flacco's pump-fake pass to himself and taking it 37 yards for a pick-six at Cleveland.
Johnson flashes his directness when he said of how he's now viewed by the league's offensive coordinators: "I think if you ask anybody from staff to players, just based off the film, I'm a problem."
But in his next breath he reminds that he still see a long way to progress on the problem scale before he'll have reached his standard.
"I haven't proved anything," he said. "What I did has been done. I haven't done anything after that. So just keep going, staying humble, and reminding myself I haven't done nothing."
But Johnson has the sound and look of a player who plans to have done a lot of good things by the time it's all said and done.