Anthony Johnson was a beast in Thursday’s win over the Bears. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
FOXBORO — Anthony Johnson made himself quite the name in Thursday night’s 23-22 win over the Bears at Gillette Stadium.
The nose tackle out of LSU has had to re-make his image from a 325-pound space-eater to a 280-pound up-the-field force as a defensive lineman.
The undrafted lineman came into the NFL in 2014 and played parts of two seasons with the Dolphins and Redskins. Then, the same tackle who set a Louisiana high school record with 67.5 sacks in four seasons realized he had to change.
The Patriots, after Bill Belichick checked him out in the offseason, gave him that chance this year. But not before Belichick wondered if the trimmed down Johnson was the same tackle he saw at LSU.
“Do we have the right guy?” Belichick said after Thursday’s game in which Johnson played most of the first half with the first unit and into the second half with the second and third team defense.
Johnson finished with a half-sack, two tackles, one quarterback hit and even one pass defended. In other words, he was all over the field.
“That’s my game, vertical, up the field. Just trying to disrupt stuff in the backfield and try to help the DBs. [The Patriots have] been great to me, given me a chance. I’m just going to take it and run with it,” Johnson said Thursday.
After chances with the Dolphins and Redskins, Johnson is ready to show his personality and his hunger to stay in the NFL.
“You have to stay persistent,” Johnson said. “If this is what you want to do, you’ve got to understand this isn’t a job for the weak. I have to categorize myself as a silverback gorilla. Just go out there and be ferocious and just play. So, that’s how it is in the NFL. You have to go out there and be ready to play every day.
“It’s been different. I had to lose a lot of weight over the course of the summer. I went from 325 to about 280 pounds. I’m just trying to be the player I can be, to try to help a football team out the best way I can.
“It was a personal thing. I just didn’t feel right. When I was down in Miami playing nose tackle, I got too big, about 325 pounds. I just wasn’t moving the way I could. I’m a quicker guy, quicker defensive lineman, just trying to use my techniques to the best of my ability.”
It’s ironic that Johnson’s big night came on the same night Alan Branch was reportedly suspended for violation of team rules. Johnson is fighting for a spot on the team with the likes of Markus Kuhn, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Terrance Knighton.
“It’s good to be out there playing with a great group of guys, especially with a great organization like the Patriots,” Johnson said. “I haven’t been on the field in a long time and I love the game of football. Just to get out there and feel the fans and just have fun. It was a great experience again.”
Johnson’s ability to play into the fourth quarter speaks to his new-found stamina with his new body type.
“Very important. I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason with training, down in New Orleans,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to be the best player I can be for any team, especially the New England Patriots. I have a great opportunity here and just trying to take every chance I get and run with it.
“I wouldn’t change nothing for nothing at all. I’m happy about everything right now and everything is going in the right direction. It’s been different. A lot of ups and downs. My whole football career has been like that, at the end of the day. What God has for you is for you, man. I’m just going to keep pushing and playing football.”