Titans coach: An undrafted free agent is outperforming Austin Johnson
Austin Johnson was a bit of a late bloomer at Penn State.
Sure, he earned starts as a redshirt freshman, but it wasn’t until his redshirt junior season that Johnson became one of the top playmaking defensive tackles in the country. That’s what led to him becoming the Tennessee Titans’ second-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
But unfortunately for Johnson, the transition to the NFL hasn’t been easy.
The Titans released their depth chart ahead of their first preseason game on Saturday. Johnson wasn’t even the second-string nose tackle. Instead, he was listed as third-string, behind undrafted free agent Antwaun Woods from USC.
“Antwaun Woods is playing well,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey told the Tennessean. “One is playing better than the other right now. I want to see how Austin responds to that. Is he going to take it (personally) that an undrafted free agent has moved into the second spot on the depth chart? I’m hoping he does.”
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That’s pretty cut and dry about the former All-B1G defensive tackle, who was drafted No. 43 overall. Mularkey obviously doesn’t feel an obligation to give Johnson any special treatment because of his high draft slot.
Johnson wasn’t expected to start as a rookie with the Titans set up front, but he was and is expected to rotate in. Part of what made Johnson rise on draft boards was his ability to play nose tackle in a 3-4, which few guys with his 314-pound frame can do.
Mularkey praised Woods for playing with a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps he just gave Johnson a reason to do the same.