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HHS girls fall, will play for 7th -1/30/2015, 5:29 PM

Tiger baseball picked 11th in MIAA -1/30/2015, 1:58 PM

TMP picks up dual win at Plainville -1/30/2015, 10:31 AM

Olathe South too much for Hays High -1/30/2015, 10:13 AM

Hoxie girls chase record -1/30/2015, 10:12 AM

KSU prepares for Allen Fieldhouse -1/30/2015, 10:12 AM

Wichita State will appeal ruling that takes away baseball wins -1/30/2015, 10:12 AM

Nino Williams unlikely to play for Wildcats -1/30/2015, 10:12 AM

Tiger softball picked fifth in MIAA -1/29/2015, 11:27 AM

Tiger women win at Emporia -1/29/2015, 10:29 AM

FHSU men pick up needed win at Emporia -1/29/2015, 10:30 AM

No. 12 Wichita State survives Loyola's challenge -1/29/2015, 10:23 AM

KU wins ugly game -1/29/2015, 10:31 AM

Graham enjoying KU life -1/28/2015, 11:03 AM

Mountaineers take down Wildcats -1/28/2015, 11:03 AM

Tuesday's area prep basketball boxscores -1/28/2015, 11:03 AM

Belichick, Patriots focused solely on Seattle, Super Bowl -1/28/2015, 11:02 AM

MVC strong at the top -1/28/2015, 11:02 AM

Former Tiger, HHS coach named new FB coach at Mac -1/27/2015, 6:57 PM

Tiger women vault to No. 6 in poll -1/27/2015, 2:39 PM

James Shields remains a free agent, but Royals 'not sure there's a fit' -1/27/2015, 10:17 AM

Pats' owner defends Belichick, Brady -1/27/2015, 10:17 AM

Alexander newcomer of the week -1/27/2015, 10:17 AM

KSU's Edwards finding success as the sixth man -1/27/2015, 10:17 AM

FHSU wins Kansas Cup after scoring error -1/27/2015, 10:17 AM

FHSU wrestling takes second in Kansas Cup -1/26/2015, 10:27 AM

WSU baseball starts second season under Butler -1/26/2015, 10:36 AM

No. 14 WSU hammers Drake -1/26/2015, 10:37 AM

Stafford named Offensive MVP in first Pro Bowl -1/26/2015, 10:27 AM

TMP boys, girls claim MCL title; HHS boys fall -1/26/2015, 10:27 AM

Brand tops Deterding in Bob Kuhn Classic -1/25/2015, 8:41 PM

Tiger wrestling falls short of No. 3 UNK -1/25/2015, 8:41 PM

No. 17 Tigers dominate No. 4 Pitt State -1/25/2015, 8:41 PM

FHSU men fall short of Pitt State -1/25/2015, 8:41 PM

Friday's area prep basketball boxscores -1/25/2015, 2:45 PM

-1/25/2015, 2:00 PM

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Atwood 76, St. Francis 65

Dighton 62, Oberlin 47

Hillsboro 50, Goodland 47

Lakeside 42, Lincoln 32

Minneapolis 68, Russell 35

Rock Hills 42, Natoma 37

Salina Central 62, Andover 58

Salina South 62, Sacred Heart 47

Sharon Springs 75, Leoti 38

St. John's Beloit-Tipton 57, Osborne 34

Sylvan-Lucas 61, Thunder Ridge 48


Dighton 44, Atwood 11

Dodge City 71, Hays High 28

Hesston 51, Goodland 18

Hoisington 60, Victoria 46

Hoxie 65, St. Francis 13

Lincoln 33, Lakeside 26

Minneapolis 47, Otis-Bison 24

Osborne 59, Wilson 34

Sharon Springs 63, Oberlin 42

Sylvan-Lucas 43, Natoma 41 (ot)

Tescott 41, Rock Hills 33

Trego 56, Leoti 27

Thunder Ridge 33, St. John's Beloit-Tipton 30

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Chiefs' Johnson hopes to put rookie year in past

Published on -7/29/2014, 10:36 AM

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By Terez A. Paylor


ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Chiefs linebacker Nico Johnson cites one play, in particular, that he hopes signifies his improvement since a disappointing rookie year.

On Saturday, during the Chiefs' first padded practice of training camp, Johnson quickly realized he would be tasked with man-to-man coverage on do-everything star Jamaal Charles, who ran a wheel route down the sideline.

"I was pretty much trying to stay with him, and when I saw his eyes get bigger, I knew I had to get in his face," Johnson said with a grin. "He ended up not catching the ball."

That will never be an ideal matchup, because Charles will almost always torch a linebacker in the passing game. But the fact Johnson managed to stick with Charles is a win -- a year ago, it might have been ugly.

A noted run-stopper at Alabama, the 6-foot-2 Johnson -- who was taken in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft -- says he played at his college weight of 250 pounds last season and quickly realized that he needed to get quicker and better in coverage.

The NFL is a passing league, more than ever, and the old-school thumpers at linebacker are becoming an endangered species. This is just one of the reasons Johnson only played in six games and logged only seven tackles, all of which came in the Chiefs' regular-season finale against San Diego in which backups primarily played.

"From talking to position coaches and everybody else, one thing they wanted me to do was lose weight and just try to play faster," Johnson said. "Now I'm 240, 241 pounds and I feel lighter, I feel faster and combined with knowing the defense now, it's just so much easier.

Injuries, however, also played a role in Johnson's disappointing rookie season. He was expected to compete with veteran Akeem Jordan last year for the starting inside linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson, but a high ankle sprain bothered him since the preseason, and Jordan won the job outright.

"It wasn't a good year for me," Nico Johnson said. "I was devastated."

What's more, third-year pro James-Michael Johnson -- a fourth-round pick by Cleveland in 2012 who was claimed off waivers by the Chiefs before the regular-season opener -- seemed to overtake him on the depth chart at inside linebacker and also logged far more special teams snaps, the latter of which is a significant way that backups can hold on to a precious spot on the 53-man roster.

This trend seemed to continue throughout organized team activities in June, though Saturday's practice offered a bit of a breakthrough. When Joe Mays -- one of two projected starters at inside linebacker in the base defense -- left practice with a sore knee, it was Nico Johnson, not James-Michael Johnson, who stepped in and took some first-team reps.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, however, cautioned that they trying to develop competition, and it's also worth noting that when Mays missed Sunday's practice, newly-signed veteran Josh Mauga took a lot of those same first-team reps.

"Competition at the inside and outside linebacker position is very good the way it is stacking up right now, and as you saw (Sunday), we are going to roll guys through there, get everyone a look in there," Sutton said. "We have talked to everybody about it. If you are running out there with the first group, you better be pushing because there is somebody right behind you."

Sutton, however, also had some nice words for his young linebacker.

"Nico came back in really good shape, as you see," Sutton said. "That helps you in everything, I think. It helps in your endurance. It helps in your range. It allows you to play at the same speed maybe for quarters one through four instead of just quarter one ... I think this is the lightest he has been in quite a while. Again, hat's off to him for recognizing, 'Hey, this is the way maybe I can help me.'"

Chiefs coach Andy Reid also praised Johnson's conditioning, though he hinted he still needs to improve against the pass.

"He came back in phenomenal shape, and you're looking at a big, strong linebacker," Reid said. "Right now he's better against the run than against the pass, but he's working like crazy on the pass. You can see the strides that he's made over the last year. It's a good thing."

For his part, Johnson said he was humbled by his struggles last season, and hopes to show enough overall improvement this preseason to prove he can make more of a contribution in 2014 than he did in 2013.

Because this is the NFL, after all, and nothing is guaranteed, not even a roster spot for a recent fourth round pick.

"The competition (at inside linebacker) is high," Johnson said. "I was thinking over the summer that my game has to be at its best right now. I wasn't thinking about my career, just this moment, this time. I've got to do my best. That's what I've got to do."

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