After disappointing season, Trumaine Johnson a key to Jets D

In this Sept. 20, 2018, photo, New York Jets defensive back Trumaine Johnson breaks up a pass intended for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway during the first half of an NFL game in Cleveland. The former Griz might be the most important Jets player not named Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell or Jamal Adams. 

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Trumaine Johnson might be the most important New York Jets player not named Sam Darnold, Le'Veon Bell or Jamal Adams.

The veteran cornerback is being counted on to anchor a suspect secondary — and to bounce back from what was a subpar season. A hamstring injury kept him out for all but three snaps this preseason, but he's preparing to start in the opener against Buffalo.

"Oh, man, I'm so excited," Johnson, who played college football at Montana, said Thursday. "Not playing in the preseason and, of course, then with that injury, just to go out there and practice, it's been good for me, so I'm excited for Sunday."

Johnson has been officially listed as limited during the first two days of practice, but he says he's feeling 100% healthy now. And, the fact he was sidelined for a good chunk of the summer won't have much bearing on how he has prepared this week.

"I'm a vet," Johnson said. "Injuries are part of the game, playing through injuries. The main thing is staying in it mentally, in the classroom, and that's what I've been doing."

Johnson was having a solid camp up until he was hurt, and it was a good sign after a shaky first season in New York.

He spent his first six seasons with the Rams, establishing himself as one of the top players in the league at his position. The Jets made him their top free agent signing last year, giving him a five-year, $72.5 million contract that included $34 million guaranteed.

The 29-year-old Johnson played in only 10 games, though, as a quadriceps injury sidelined him for five weeks and affected his playmaking abilities. Then, he was benched by then-coach Todd Bowles for the season finale for being late to a practice.

A new season and a change in coaching staff has helped clear the page for Johnson, who again is the Jets' No. 1 cornerback — but now in coordinator Gregg Williams' defense. It's a reunion for the two as Williams was his defensive coordinator as a rookie in 2012, and again from 2014-16 when Johnson had arguably the best seasons of his career.

The Jets are hoping Williams can help Johnson return to that level this year.

"He was one of the better corners in the league," coach Adam Gase said. "(If) we get close to that, that's going to be a positive for us. It's all going to be about getting him healthy and back into his rhythm. I feel like he's confident in Gregg's defense and Gregg knows how to use him right."

Johnson will be responsible most weeks for covering opponents' top wide receivers, and the Jets need him to be on top of his game because there's some uncertainty beyond him at the position.

Brian Poole, a free agent signing, is a solid addition as the nickel cornerback, but Darryl Roberts — previously mostly a backup — will slide into the regular role as the starter on the outside opposite Johnson. The team's only other players listed at cornerback are Arthur Maulet and Nate Hairston, who was acquired from Indianapolis. Recently claimed Bennett Jackson is a safety who can also play cornerback.

But, it begins with Johnson, whose first test this season will be Bills speedster John Brown.

"I covered John Brown four or five years, so I'm very familiar with him," Johnson said of the former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver. "He's quick, he's fast, for sure. He's a ballplayer."

The Jets know Johnson is, too. And, they believe their No. 1 cornerback — and the rest of the defense — is up for the challenge to kick off the season.

"Any time that you play these types of receivers that just have extreme speed, you have to do a good job of staying on top of these guys," Gase said. "You can't let them get behind you. That's a big point of emphasis for us, always is, if the ball is over our head because those are game-changing plays, especially with how Josh (Allen) can hold onto the ball and he can throw it the whole distance. So, we've just got to do a good job. It's got to be a full defensive effort."

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