Skins' Johnson pursues faith and quarterbacks

August 15, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

CARLISLE, Pa. -- When Tim Johnson isn't tramping through offensive linemen in pursuit of the quarterback, when he isn't tracking down running backs in pursuit of the ball, he pursues his passion on a higher order.

This rough, tough defensive tackle for the Washington Redskins is also a ready witness for Jesus Christ.

"I like to speak to unsaved people," Johnson, 6 feet 3 and 261 pounds, said yesterday.

One place he finds them is in the locker room. "It's one of the hardest places to witness," he said, candidly.

That is not to say the Redskins locker room is a den of inequity, however. Actually, Johnson is one of a representative number of Bible-studying Redskins.

He goes to the same church in Washington as cornerback Darrell Green, and reads Scripture with teammates like tight end Ron Middleton and defensive end Charles Mann.

Johnson came by his faith while playing football as a sophomore at Penn State in 1985. Back then, he talked regularly "about the gifts of the spirit" with roommate D.J. Dozier, who later played for the Minnesota Vikings and now plays minor-league baseball. While listening to former Penn State quarterback Todd Blackledge speak at an outreach program, Johnson made the decision to become a born-again Christian.

Since that time, he says his faith has been tested often, mostly through injuries during his first three years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It also was tested last summer when Johnson held out of the Steelers' training camp. In August, he was traded to the Redskins for a fourth-round draft choice. "I accepted it as the will of God," he said.

Johnson started four of 18 games for the Redskins, including both playoff games. In a 20-6 upset of Philadelphia in the wild-card round, he was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week. He sacked Randall Cunningham twice, made five tackles and forced a fumble.

Through training camp this summer, he has been penciled in as the starter at right tackle ahead of longtime mainstay Darryl Grant. Yesterday, however, coach Joe Gibbs said that because of a lack of depth at defensive end, Johnson might be pressed into service there.

Johnson accepts that possibility without complaint.

"This is a team game," he said. "It's a game where each individual has to make certain sacrifices. I'd love to stay inside [at tackle], but I'll do what they want."

Either way, Johnson is an integral part of the Redskins' revamped defense. The Redskins have a new middle linebacker in Matt Millen, a new free safety in Brad Edwards, and have flip-flopped outside linebackers Wilber Marshall and Andre Collins.

Johnson says the moves should enhance the defensive performance.

"We speeded up the process last week," he said. "The Pittsburgh game [a 16-7 preseason loss] was kind of a bust for the defense. Last week [in a 27-6 win over New England], we set the standard to build upon."

Johnson has gotten off to a good start, collecting sacks in each of the first two preseason games, a fact he attributes to familiarity with the system.

The next test for the defense comes tomorrow night when the Redskins make their season debut at RFK Stadium against the Cleveland Browns.

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