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Jermaine Johnson: Jets' Defense Is 'Just Reaching for Perfection'

Aaron Rodgers’ Message to ’22 Draft Class: Time to Grab Leadership Roles


The Jets' heralded draft class of 2022 is embarking on its third season in the NFL, each player more mature and more imposing in his own way.

Looking back on that marquee draft, however, that brought the Jets top-shelf players like CB Sauce Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson and RB Breece Hall, Jermaine Johnson said on Wednesday that he felt he was on the outside looking in that first season.

"Those guys all were drafted around where I was drafted, making huge plays for the team," Johnson told reporters after the team's OTA session. "I didn't feel I was able to."

So after his rookie season, the LB/Edge out of Florida State, after playing in 14 games, dedicated himself to getting stronger, faster and sharpening his approach

"I feel like I had to lift my side of the couch, do my part," he said. "And with that came more playing time. I was able to maximize my playing time. The goal is to keep getting better and better." He added: "My ceiling? Just keep raising it. I don't think you ever reach it, but if I do I'll keep reaching higher and higher until the wheels fall off. That's my goal."

In his sophomore season, Johnson, who was back in the No. 11 jersey he played in while in college, has bulked up to around 260 pounds. In 2023, he started in all 17 regular-season games, had 7.5 sacks (up from 2.5 as a rookie) and even intercepted a pass, which he ran back for a 37-yard TD against Cleveland.

"That class, me, Sauce, Breece, Garrett, [Micheal] Clemons, [Jeremy] Ruckert and [undrafted free agent Tony] Adams ... Now we're going into our third year. Aaron Rodgers said it great: We're not just young guys anymore. We have to step up into leadership roles. That's something I relish and I know the other guys relish. We like the pressure and exceeding expectations. We're ready to give this team all we've got."

On draft day in April 2022, Jets GM Joe Douglas completed a trade with Tennessee to move back into the first round and select Johnson No. 26 overall after he was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2021, his only season playing for the Seminoles after a couple of seasons with Georgia.

Last season, Johnson took 66 percent of the snaps on defense as the Jets' defense burnished its reputation as one of the top units in the NFL. There will be a different look up front on the defensive line in the coming season after Bryce Huff left in free agency and John Franklin-Myers was traded to Denver. The big addition was the acquisition via trade from Philadelphia of Haason Reddick. In his first season with the Eagles, in 2022, Reddick had 16 sacks and 5 forced fumbles and followed that up last season with 11 sacks and a lone forced fumble.

"Amazing guy, talented player," Johnson said about Reddick, speaking with Eric Allen of "We're excited about who we brought in and the character they have. Big plays, the moment's never too big for him. He makes big plays consistently, you have to have that X factor to make the play and tilt the game for your team."

He added: "His track record speaks for itself, year in year out. Every 1-on-1 he's dominating. He's a problem so I just get to learn from a guy like that, learn from a professional like that so I'm just excited for the opportunity. We've got a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that can play in different places. I'm just excited for all of us to get the most out of each of our skill sets."

As good as the Jets' defense performed last season, Johnson believes the group can -- and will -- do better.

"Just put it all together, a game where we put together four quarters," Johnson said. "I think that we put a lot of three-quarter games together, a lot of 99 percent games together, but we had a few plays here and there. I mean aske I said before, our goal is for the other team to score zero points, then we'll go undefeated. So that's kind of where we are just reaching for perfection.

"You're always improving, just technique, low-pad level, explosion speed,. Just trying to be an apex predator, power, finesse at an extremely high level, really put tackles in a bind. So just really all around just dominating. That's kind of where my head is."

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