Sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson took on a new role for Tennessee on Saturday, but the role of the Wildcat is not new to him.
Johnson ran the Wildcat for his high school in Gainsville, Ga. He ran it in his senior season and was successful enough that Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley used the Wildcat in his recruiting pitches to Johnson.
"He did it in high school," said Dooley. "When we were recruiting him, I told him we'd do that. We didn't do it last year because he was a freshman trying to learn the defense. I knew after the first game we were going to do it. We didn't bring it out the second game because we didn't think we needed it. We used it and it helped us."
Although Johnson only had two touches for five yards and a touchdown, the Vols coaching staff want to keep the package in the offense.
"I hope I keep that role," said Johnson. "Coach said I did good at it. It was pretty exciting getting a few touches. I got that one score for the team, trying to get the win."
Johnson would also like to do something in the offense he didn't do in high school and that's throw the football out of the Wildcat formation.
"I had a play set up to throw a pass in the game," said Johnson. "But we messed it up on the goal line so I just ran it in. I never got to throw it in high school, I ran it or handed it off. But I say I have a pretty good arm and know I can throw accurately."
The coaching staff havn't been the only people to notice the ability of Johnson. Teammates have also seen Johnson's skill at the position.
"He's a good guy," said sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt. "Everybody saw it. I'll block for him and he can throw me the ball. A.J. can do everything. Ever since we got here, we used to room together. He used to pull up on the computer the highlights from his high school. I didn't believe it was him. He ran it well. Nobody wanted to jump in front (of) a 245 pound guy running downhill."
Dooley is hesitant to use Johnson in the Wildcat package because of his size and athleticism, but his effort also plays a key role in the decision to use Johnson.
"He's awesome," said Dooley. "We have a lot of guys (running the Wildcat). A.J. was great. He plays every play like it's his last. Doesn't matter what's the score. That's why he's a great player."
Even with Johnson's new role, his main focus continues to be the defense and how he and the defense as a whole can improve throughout the season.
"I believe I will get a little better on the plays and on the techniques," said Johnson. "But there is still room to improve. Reading the guards and reading where the ball is going, I am doing a little better. It is just the little things like getting a nice tackle, fitting up and taking the right angle."
Johnson's defensive performance on Saturday can't be overlooked by his new role in the offense. Johnson had 17 tackles, a career high, and led the team in tackles.
"He can do anything," said Dooley "He's A.J."