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GT's receiver is carrying Sunday punch

October 05, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - If the University of Maryland has any luck, Calvin Johnson will wake up Saturday thinking it's the day before he should be playing.

Consensus says that's the eventual destiny for the Georgia Tech wide receiver ... to be playing on Sunday afternoons in the NFL.

Johnson is the rage of the Atlantic Coast Conference, a focal point for NFL scouts and a real pain to any team which faces No. 18 Georgia Tech. On Saturday, it will the Terrapins' turn to face the 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior who is nothing short of a game breaker.

Maryland vows to do what it can to stop Johnson, including handing him a calendar.

"I don't know who else is as big, as fast and as strong as he is," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "Guys like him don't come along every day. He's a talent. He'll be playing on Sundays. I wish he would move on already and go make some money."

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Maryland defensive back Josh Wilson would gladly volunteer to be Johnson's agent, at least for this week.

"He should definitely be playing on Sunday," Wilson said. "I hope my favorite team, the (Detroit) Lions get him. He's a great player. He will probably be one of the top two players taken in the draft this year. If he wants to leave for the draft for one game, I'd support him."

Friedgen quickly compared Johnson to Terrell Owens, at least on the talent scale. Johnson has all the talent to change a game. He can even alter it when he isn't the Yellow Jackets' main weapon.

"I had a chance to meet him and I think he's a great kid, too," Friedgen said. "He does concern me. Obviously you want to double this guy, but you don't want to give up the play to someone else like Virginia Tech did. You have to have guys play their responsibilities and just get to the ball. You can't have a breakdown."

Johnson has been dominant this season. He was named ACC offensive back of the week for two straight weeks - and for the third time this season - after wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Hokies did everything to take Johnson out of Tech's offense, but he still managed six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the 38-27 road victory. He caught touchdowns on the Jackets' first two possessions to stake Tech to a 21-0 lead.

In five games this season, Johnson has 25 catches for 426 yards and seven touchdowns.

Breakdown is the key term for the Terps - both defensively and mentally. Maryland was tested by the passing games of Middle Tennessee and Florida International. Neither is considered to be of the caliber of those in the ACC. That means the pressure will be turned up on Wilson and the rest of the Terps' secondary.

"As a defensive back, it puts a lot of pressure on you when you have to face a great player," Wilson said. "There will be some instances when I'm going to have to play him one-on-one. He's not like any other player I have faced."

Georgia Tech's diversity makes it difficult for a team to pin down Johnson. The Yellow Jackets have a talented running threat in quarterback Reggie Ball, who forces defenses to play honest. And while teams have tried to take Johnson out of the game with different coverages, the move has just opened up Georgia Tech's arsenal.

"Most people double him, but you don't know where he will be because they move him around," Friedgen said. "You have to have a good scheme to take care of him when he is in different places of the offense. If you double him, the problem is that it opens up some other guys because you have to play single coverage on the others. You are robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Virginia Tech tried to double cover Johnson to take him out of the game. First, it opened up the rest of the Yellow Jackets' offense. Then the game came back to the receiver.

Virginia Tech lost and didn't really help Wilson in figuring out how to attack Johnson.

"From what I've seen, I know how not to play him," Wilson said. "He has led Georgia Tech to a lot of success. I have to play within myself."

Which means maybe the best way for Maryland to cover Johnson is maybe not to change the regular habits.

"You have to be able to read the keys and stay at home," Wilson said. "When you guess, 75 percent of the time, you are out of position. If someone overpursues, (Georgia Tech) can read that and have a lot of things to use. We can't try to play bigger than ourselves."

For one week, Wilson will gladly accept the cigarette and blindfold for the chance to be the one to show the world how to defend the indefensible Johnson.

"I can't wait to get on the field this week," Wilson said. "I can't wait to play the great players. It let's me know where I am and where I have to step up. It is a great opportunity for me to face a great player."

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