D.J. Fights Through … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

You want to know a definition of perseverance? It can be defined in two words:

Derrick Johnson.

Think about it for a minute here. Consider where the Chiefs linebacker’s career was a year ago. The team was wrapping up another losing season and Johnson could hardly be blamed because he seldom got on the field. After starting for the first four seasons of his NFL career, Johnson was moved out of the opening lineup by Todd Haley and his coaching staff. D.J.’s contributions were limited to the nickel package.

At times, the whole thing left Johnson confused, frustrated, sometimes even angry, although he’s not a person who walks around being upset. The media horde asked him all the time what was up, whether he had talked it over with the coaches, whether they had given him any type of clue as to why his arrow was obviously pointing down.

His answers were the same: he didn’t know what was up, the coaches had told him nothing and he had no clue why he had to fight his way out of the dog house.

But there’s one thing Johnson did not do – quit. He put in the hardest working off-season of his career and he’s played in all 14 games this year. He has become the motor of the Chiefs 2010 defense, leading the team in tackles and earning himself AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts last Sunday in St. Louis.  

Oh, and he signed a big contract extension that could bring him as much as $36.5 million, with $15 million in guaranteed dollars.

“It’s been a blessing,” Johnson said of the 2010 season. “There was a lot of hard work and hard work does pay off. Faith in God pays off. A lot of people around me get the credit, as far as my teammates and my coaches.

“That’s why you can’t get caught up in the moment, like last year. You’ve just got to close your eyes and keep working. It will pay off.”

That attitude and his off-season of hard work literally paid off for Johnson when he signed a contract extension with the team in early November. He easily could have waited until after the season when he’d likely be an unrestricted free agent – depending on how the free agency rules come down with a new agreement between players and owners – and possibly scored a bigger contract.

That was another sign that last year was something Johnson put behind him and why Haley was singing his praises on Wednesday, after receiving word that D.J. was named the conference’s best defensive player for last weekend.

“There is no doubt that he had a mindset to try to get the most out of himself,” said the head coach. “He has stacked game on top of game where he has been the epitome of what we are trying to do – just get a little bit better every day.

“He has stacked a bunch of really good games together and made big plays for us, but that (St. Louis) game in particular, that was a true All-Pro effort across the board. He did everything for us and was such a big part of helping us win. The chances and opportunities he had, he took full advantage of. Whether it was knocking a ball down, or making a tackle, or chasing somebody down the sidelines, chasing the quarterback down on a big third down, he did a great job. He’s been doing that, with his superb skill level that he’s utilizing with a lot of work and practice and dedication.”

Usually the defensive player of the week receives the honor after he created a turnover, sacked the QB or scored a touchdown for the defense. None of that happened for Johnson in St. Louis.

“I had some big plays, but I didn’t have really big plays,” Johnson said. “That happens, but I’m not going to give it back.”

Just like he won’t give back the 2010 season that’s been quite a change from what he went through the year before. It began with Johnson winning the starting job at inside linebacker for the 2010 Chiefs defense, beating out Demorrio Williams who started there in the ’09 season.

From the preseason, he has been the leader of the unit that has performed at a much higher level than previous seasons. He started with a big game against San Diego in the opener and he’s been a major factor since. In early November, he signed that contract extension.

A year ago at this point in the season, Johnson was not sure what his future might be with the team. The 2009 season had been a series of ups and downs for the former first-round draft choice as he tried to adapt to the team’s new coaching staff headed by Haley.

Johnson had been an average to good player during his first four seasons in the league, but there was no doubt he had not lived up to his No. 15 position in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. At the University of Texas he had been a big-play performer, but those types of game changing plays were few and far between in the Chiefs defense.

Haley expected more and when he didn’t get it from Johnson, his opportunities diminished. He was out of the starting lineup for the first time in his football career, reduced to a role in the nickel package. Johnson was not happy, but never caused a scene or a stink within the team.

At the end of the ’09 season, Johnson was without a contract for the 2010 season. With the owners’ early out of the collective bargaining agreement, Johnson was going to be a restricted free agent rather than unrestricted. He signed a one-year tender and then began the most strenuous off-season conditioning program he’d ever gone through.

“I worked harder than I ever did before,” said Johnson.

Throughout his career, Johnson was nagged by groin, hamstring and quadriceps pulls that frequently cost him practice time or limited his effectiveness. So that’s where he concentrated a lot of his extra work in running and weight lifting.

Asked on Wednesday how he felt, Johnson wrinkled up his nose and said, “I’m OK.” Like all of his teammates that have played 14 games and thrown their bodies into the other team, Johnson hurts. But his name doesn’t turn up on the injury report and he doesn’t miss practice. He’s there day after day after day.

That Chiefs fans is perseverance.


  • NFL – Patriots QB Tom Brady received the most votes in fan balloting for the Pro Bowl. There were some 98.59 million votes cast. Brady received 1,877,079 votes, finishing ahead of Eagles QB Michael Vick with 1,522,437 votes. The top five were all quarterbacks with Brady and Vick followed by Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees.
  • AFC – named Ravens RB Ray Rice offensive player of the week; Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson defensive player of the week; Patriots OL Dan Connolly special teams player of the week.
  • NFC – named Eagles QB Michael Vick offensive player of the week; Falcons CB Brent Grimes defensive player of the week; Bears WR Devin Hester special teams player of the week.
  • BENGALS – claimed TE Garrett Mills on waivers from the Eagles.
  • BRONCOS – placed FB Spencer Larsen on the injured-reserve list (ankle) ending his season.
  • BROWNS – placed TE Evan Moore on the injured-reserve list (hip) ending his season.
  • CARDINALS – placed WR Early Doucet on the injured-reserve list (hip) ending his season; signed LB Curtis Gatewood off their practice squad.
  • COLTS – placed WR Austin Collie on the injured-reserve list (concussion) ending his season; signed S Ken Hamlin, last with Ravens.
  • 49ERS – will start Troy Smith at quarterback this Sunday against the Rams in St. Louis.
  • PANTHERS – signed FB Rashawn Jackson off their practice squad.
  • PATRIOTS – signed DT Landon Cohen, formerly with Jaguars.
  • RAMS – placed FB Brit Miller on the injured-reserve list (knee) ending his season; signed LB Curtis Johnson off their practice squad.
  • REDSKINS – placed NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu on the injured-reserve list (shoulder) ending his season; re-signed DT Darrion Scott.
  • SEAHAWKS – released G Ben Hamilton from the injured-reserve list.

13 Responses to “D.J. Fights Through … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • December 23, 2010  - David says:

    Good morning Bob,
    DJ has really impressed me this year. I was so excited when he feel to us in the draft and then he came in and did squat. An occasional big play showed his ability but taking too many plays off showed his desire. Todd came in and made him a part-time player and the light finally went off in his head. What a turnaround for a talented player. My hats off to both DJ and Todd for making him an all-pro candidate.

  • December 23, 2010  - David says:

    Sorry boys and girls, “fell to us” not “feel to us”.

  • December 23, 2010  - Chuck says:

    I love Derrick (and all the Chiefs for that matter) but why on certain sundays, do we get “run on” like a freight train coming thru your living room??? The Chargers game in San Diego and even the Raiders game too. It seems like on certain games we just simply can’t stop anybody. Even the Broncos game in Denver if my memory serves me correct. WHAT HAPPENS TO THESE GUYS ON SOME OF THOSE SUNDAYS???? Its like if they just don’t show up sometimes.

  • December 23, 2010  - Edward says:

    I give DJ credit because after 4 seasons in the league and only being able to give you 2 or 3 good games like that within a 16 game season couldn’t blame Chiefs fans for starting to call this guy a bust. Got to give Haley a lot of credit because he’s really doing a great job of developing these guys and maximizing these guys talent.

  • December 23, 2010  - Edward says:

    Chuck Raiders game we did a good job against the run Chargers and Broncos game they ran ball on us well because of type of defensive personel we was in. We ran alot 3 down lineman with McGraw subbing as a extra linebacker so it was almost like we was running 5 to 6 def backs on the field with 2 to 3 linebackers. Which in both games we did that to stop Broncos and Chargers explosive passing attack. So we made both teams do things they normally not comfortable doing. It worked against Broncos and Chargers just beat us because we was playing with backup QB.

  • December 23, 2010  - el cid says:

    May black out game on sunday. I got three extra seat for family but not sure if they are the “right” kind. What the heck is the “right” kind? Planned on sending nephews and sons with friends to game and I stay cozy at home with warm food, drink, and grandaughters. That plan may be shot to hell. Anyone?

  • December 23, 2010  - MattMac44 says:

    Goodness … think about what kind of year (i.e., crazy good) he would be having if DJ had a little more “stick-um” on the hands. Change that stat category of “passes defended” to “interceptions” for the final push!!!

    Chuck – I think what you see on those days is the front three are unable to absorb and/or require double teams, thus allowing a blocker to get to the LBs quicker and easier …. missed tackles also hurt during those games.

  • December 23, 2010  - Niblick says:

    I think the Chiefs will ask for an extension to avoid the backout. They will sell enough tickets that either the Hunts(40%) of the price) for the visitors share or KCTV will possibly buy the unsold tickets. I would be totally shocked if this game is not televised locally.

  • December 23, 2010  - aPauled says:

    Typically the catalyst in stopping the run game in a 3-4 is the Strong side ILB…Jovan Belcher for the Chiefs. Belcher is undersized at 230 and misses a lot of tackles when he doesn’t get moved. For this Defense to move forward, the Chiefs need a 250 lb +, thumper ILB to pair with DJ.

  • December 23, 2010  - Ernie says:

    Hi Bob, your site is my first stop everyday. Great job! Question: it seems to me that Haley rarely mentioned specific players in his pressers during training camp and early season games and stuck to his laying a foundation message. Now he is passing out compliments left and right. Can you comment on this or his development as a HC? Thanks and Go Chiefs!

  • December 23, 2010  - jim says:

    That ILB Thumper you refer to MAY be Micah Johnson. At 6’2″ and about 255, he runs to the ball and knocks the snot out of people. I watched him with KY and was REALLY surprised that he did not get drafted. He could be one of those Haley/Crennell devlopmental guys that blossoms with some coaching. The talent is there – size, quickness, strength, not sure about agility in coverage, but we’ll see.

  • December 23, 2010  - Fan Since 93 says:

    Bob, I know that Derrick and Demario play the same position, but why don’t we ever see them both player line backer at the same time? Is Belcher that much better against the run or in pass coverage?

  • December 23, 2010  - Nate says:

    I’m glad Derrick is finally playing up to his ability. I do not give him the credit. Todd Haley deserves the credit. Derrick didn’y have any choice. He was in the last year of his contract and it was step up or hit the streets and sign with another team for a fraction of what he was making.

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