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Is Texas WR Daje Johnson ready to finally break out?

Just being available is progress for the Texas speedster.

John Weast

Remember when former Texas Longhorns running back Fozzy Whittaker seemed like a mythical creature because of injuries?

Junior wide receiver Daje Johnson is the latest mythical creature for the Horns, missing in action because of injuries or suspensions for more than a calendar year now.

He was suspended for his first game at Texas in 2012, then again for the Texas Tech game in 2013, both for unspecified violations of team rules, then he was academically ineligible for last year's Alamo Bowl that ended the Mack Brown era.

With his future at Texas in jeopardy during the spring as a result, Johnson made it through the spring semester, but then got suspended as part of the preseason Purge, missing the first four games.

When he finally returned against Baylor, he carried the ball once out of the backfield for five yards, tossed a reverse off to freshman wide receiver Armanti Foreman, then injured his hamstring, missing the next three games.

Since returning, he's had a couple tantalizing flashes, carrying the ball four times for 67 yards, an average of 16.75 yards per touch, though his only carry in the second half against West Virginia was stuffed and somehow felt like the wrong play at the wrong time.

This was his more successful play, which went for 22 yards and highlights the explosiveness that defines his game when he's healthy and on the field. Another run against Texas Tech went for 30 yards in his return to action.

Unfortunately, the coaches apparently don't trust him on special teams, as he hasn't been back returning punts or kickoffs, limiting his potential impact.

According to play caller Shawn Watson, it's been a process working Johnson back into the rotation after missing so much time.

"We always go in with packages for him," he said. "Back at the Texas Tech game when he rolled back off the shelf, giving him a package, we didn't know how far we could go with him in that game. Each week we're giving him more and more."

The Texas Tech package included a route down the sideline that Swoopes overthrew and could have gone for a big play. Texas likes to run the curl/wheel combination to get an inside receiver open down the sidelines and along with a more traditional wheel route from an even more inside position, getting Johnson with a running start against defenders who have to make trades or trail a fast player could be in that package.

"This week, he's gotten more," Watson said. "We'll continue to push him. We need to grow him. We develop packages for him, different ways for him to touch the football, and we use him as chum too. We'll put him out there, and those things that people see on film, they're going to know they do these type of things with him."

For a guy who is still attempting to build out of a niche role as a jet sweep specialist, breaking tendency offensively is a key -- like Watson said, to use him as a decoy.

The point of running the jet sweep, other than to get the team's fastest athlete in space, is to simply make the other team adjust to the possibility of him getting the football, stretching the defense horizontally and either bringing a safety rolling up or forcing a linebacker to vacate the box.

johnson bunch

Check out this bunch formation from Texas with Johnson behind freshman tight end Andrew Beck and senior tight end Goeff Swaim. This is right after junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown took down West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett on a desperation fourth down deep in Texas territory, forcing an incomplete pass.

This is the play to put the game away with a 10-point lead and just more than three minutes remaining.

And there are a lot of players bunched in the middle of the field -- eight Mountaineer defenders against eight Texas players loaded to the strong side.

bj 2

Johnson comes in motion from the bunch as Beck peels across the formation to block the end man on the line of scrimmage, a block that is equally effective whether Johnson gets the ball or junior running back Johnathan Gray receives the hand off.

Meanwhile, junior left tackle Marcus Hutchins works to the second level against the weakside linebacker in the Texas zone blocking scheme. Notice that the box safety is concerned with the play fake to Johnson and hasn't identified that junior running back Johnathan Gray has the football.


Beck gets enough of the defensive end, Hutchins has an easier job walling off the linebacker because he's not sure who has the ball, and the safety still doesn't know where the football is at either. Senior wide receiver John Harris has a block to the bottom of the frame against a cornerback who has to be worried about leveraging the play inside if it goes to Johnson and Swaim has a block to the top, leaving Gray with a free hole to the third level of the defense and the two safeties to beat.

This is where Gray can run through arm tackles at 210 pounds -- with a crease and a head of steam and some angles to challenge.

It doesn't happen for either defender and Harris gets just enough jersey to slow down the cornerback and not enough to draw a critical flag.

Without the motion to Johnson, it might be a solid gain for Gray, but the preoccupation with the speed outside forces no fewer than four players to worry about what might happen if he gets the football.

Touchdown, Texas.

"We use him not only to carry the ball, but also to set up other things off of those things we give him the football in," Watson said. "We've got to grow him in his base offense too. He's been away from us for a while, so he's getting more assignments now."

Developing a chemistry with Swoopes is a priority too, but there have been relatively limited reps to do that, making it less likely that Johnson can actually find a seam, create some separation, and have Swoopes hit him for a big play.

But what's the status for this week?

"I met with him today," Watson said on Tuesday. "We're going to have another package for him this week and keep putting him in it more and more."

daje johnson td

Brendan Maloney (USA TODAY Sports)