He may be best known for the incident after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which he angrily Tweeted God after dropping five passes in the game, but Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson has actually become one of the most productive and efficient pass-catchers in the NFL. We recently got to catch up with Steve, talking about everything from his (abbreviated) high school football days to how he's helping the Bills become - if not a winning team - at least a team that can bring close games and surprise wins against better squads. This is part one of two.
Shutdown Corner: You had 12 catches total in your first two years, but things have just exploded this season. What's been the primary difference?
Steve Johnson: Well, it's crazy going from 12 to 60 or 70 catches, but this is all an opportunity. We had some voids, and I felt like I've been here a couple years, but I really haven't had the chance to show Buffalo what I can do. Losing Josh (Reed) and Terrell (Owens) opened things up for me, and that was pretty much it - I had my opportunity to play, and I'm just trying to show it.
SC: The thing that stands out most to me about you is your ability to get open in short spaces and beat coverage in tight windows - you've got good speed, but your suddenness really jumps off the tape. How do you develop that, and what do you think are your other attributes as a player?
SJ: I developed that as a young kid, playing Pop Warner. I went through a lot of different position - from running back to cornerback ... I never played receiver at all until I got to college. Playing safety, corner, linebacker (before), I feel like after I catch the ball, I know where the defenders will be, and I just go off of instincts.
SC: The touchdown against the Dolphins last week, where you popped into the screen out of nowhere - what was that play?
SJ: It was a deep post, and we actually worked that all week in practice - working in the post to see if we could get a (cornerback) to flip his hips. Sean Smith(notes), he really didn't flip his hips, but I kind of lulled him to sleep with my route - I kind of straightened him up and used a little speed, decelerated and accelerated again at the top of the route. He was lost a little bit, and that gave me enough space for Ryan (Fitzpatrick) to put the ball in. I made the play and came down with it.
SC: What are you still working on in your game?
SJ: Everything. As far as blocking and trying to stay mentally-focused as far as on plays when it's not coming my way or when it really shouldn't come my way. And blocking and just watching overall film on everybody on the field instead of just cornerback. Watching what the safeties are doing, and watching what linebackers are doing. There's still a lot for me to learn. I still hook up with Lee (Evans) a lot throughout the week and try to break down defensive schemes and stuff.
SC: Bills head coach Chan Gailey is known for going into systems, finding undervalued assets, and making the most of good players. What's it like working with him, and how is the offense different now?
SJ: It's great working with Coach Gailey - it doesn't show in our record, but we've been putting up yards and points. He seems to be an offensive mastermind - he knows how to use his players. Me personally, I just want to go all out for him anyway, because he took this job when a lot of coaches didn't. I just want to give my all for him, because he took a chance on us.
SJ: He's a gunslinger. Period. He throws the ball wherever and whenever. Everybody's live. That's what it's been like since I've been playing receiver for him on the scout team. He's been throwing it short, flat, medium--when you don't expect him to throw it, he'll throw it to you. Everybody's live. Ryan, he's a gunslinger and I love playing for him.
SC: Just looking at it from a talent point of view, the Bills might have more underrated players than any other NFL team right now. There's you, Fitzpatrick, Kyle Williams ... who else on your team is really standing out that the national media needs to pay attention to?
SJ: We can break it down by position. At receiver, we got a couple of undrafted guys--David Nelson(notes) and Donald Jones(notes). Naaman Roosevelt(notes), he's been getting his opportunities now. (inaudible) We got a guy, Corey McIntyre(notes), who does a lot on special teams. He's our fullback, he does a real good job. Freddie (Jackson), everybody pretty much knows about Freddie now. We got a few guys, the thing is, there all guys that nobody know about, but they can ball. We've seen ‘em ball throughout practice and since they've been here with the Buffalo Bills. So we've seen ‘em ball, but the world hasn't yet, but they will. Also Arthur Moats(notes) has a great motor and he's ballin' out now.
SC: We have to cover the whole "Tweeting God" thing - what was behind that, what was the fallout from people, and do you regret it?
SJ: No, I don't regret it because I know what I meant by it. It was bad for...everybody was coming at me different ways and everything, but I knew what I meant by it. I know the Lord is 100% good and I was simply asking why, you know. It was nothing to where I'm blaming him for anything. Not at all. But I don't take it back at all, because I know what I meant by it.
SC: More fun was the "Why So Serious" shirt - what was behind that?
SJ: To be flat-out honest, I think yeah, I think it is a little out of hand. (inaudible) "Why So Serious?" we're having fun and you can get fined $5,000 for that. It's pretty wild, you know. Guys are getting hit and they're fining ‘em for it instead of suspending cats. I don't understand that, but why would you take the money instead of suspending them. I don't understand it. It's supposed to be football, it's supposed to be fun, it's entertainment. I know a lot of people don't really like the flashiness of players, but I know some people that do appreciate that and want to turn the TV on and see some entertainment, you know. That's all, we're trying to have fun and nobody's trying to do anything to damage another guy's reputation or anything, it's just all in fun.