Safety Keelan Johnson is embracing the changes that have been brought upon with the arrival of first-year Head Coach Todd Graham. From new coaches, new defensive schemes, and having to face the high-tempo offense during daily practices, all these alterations seem to be sitting well with the senior safety.
Though Johnson is well known for his raw athleticism and speed, the senior has only produced a total of 81 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions over the last three seasons; statistics that do not reflect the talent that Johnson possesses.
But, do not let the numbers fool you quite yet.
Head Coach Todd Graham was quick to mention Johnson’s noteworthy performance in last Saturday’s post-scrimmage comments, where the senior showed his experience.
“Keelan Johnson was the standout.” Graham stated concerning Saturday’s scrimmage. “He had two interceptions and a caused-and-recovered fumble.”
That performance was a direct reflection of Johnson’s preparation going into fall camp where he knew changes had to be made to his game in order to finish his tenure in Tempe on a high note.
“There were a lot of things that I needed to work on transitioning from spring to fall camp, and my overall performance has increased since then.” Johnson noted. “Fall camp has allowed me to focus on my strengths and weaknesses and help me make the corrections on the mistakes I had in past practices.”
All Sun Devil seniors will be looked at to perform at a high level in their last go-around for the maroon and gold, including Johnson, who is looking to have his break out season.
“There is always a sense of urgency to perform,” Johnson admitted. “It’s that last grain in the hourglass, time is running out and you have to learn from past experiences and go from there.”
Also along with achieving personal improvements, Johnson much like his teammates had to learn a new defensive system under defensive coordinator Paul Randolph. Yet, the safety has viewed this transition to be natural as well as beneficial.
“This years’ defense is giving the me and the other safeties a lot of freedom to read the quarterback.” Johnson stated. “I get to use my athleticism and speed to cover a lot of ground and hopefully get in blitzes.”
Johnson also noted that blitzes have been the defensive strength throughout spring and fall practices, with players stepping up and wreaking havoc in the trenches.
“We have Carl Bradford, Will Sutton, Big Mike (Pennel) closing holes," Johnson described. “It’s allowing myself and other defensive backs to sit back and freelance and read the quarterback.”
High-octane offense is also something that was newly introduced to the Sun Devil football team this past spring, keeping defense on their toes and preparing them for the prevalent pro-style offense in the PAC-12.
“Playing against our offense is hard,” Johnson admitted. “It’s high tempo, with a lot of running off and on the field. We are doing a lot of reps and helping with our conditioning so that it’s a lot easier come game time.”
Though Johnson’s name is not always mentioned when it comes to leadership on this Arizona State defense, he claims that leadership comes in all forms.
“I’m going to lead by example.” Johnson explained. “I’m not the vocal guy out here; I leave that to Brandon Magee and Alden Darby.
“When these guys see me hustling to make plays and competing even when I am tired, they’ll look to me as one of these leaders on defense.”