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November 22, 2012

Johnson leads from field and sideline

TUSCALOOSA | A couple decades ago, when most college football teams counted the fullback as a starting position, Nico Johnson probably would have seen the field a lot more. And because the fullback is an integral part of the NFL game, expect the University of Alabama linebacker to eventually get all the action he wants.

But for now, the spread offenses that have become the popular style in the college game aren't what Johnson cares to see. Johnson shares time with UA Butkus Award finalist C.J. Mosley at Alabama's weakside linebacker position. For the most part, Johnson plays against more traditional offenses that maintain a power rushing attack with a fullback, or at least a couple of tight ends. Mosley specializes against the spread, playing in Alabama's nickel and dime defensive sets, and is thus rarely off the field.

That puts Johnson on the sideline more often. But the senior from Andalusia has no qualms about his circumstance.

"He's never ever showed a negative attitude or complained in any way, shape or form about his circumstance," said UA coach Nick Saban. "He's always been the consummate team guy. We appreciate it, and I think a lot of players appreciate it."

Despite his role, Johnson ranks second on the team in tackles with 50. Mosley leads the team, by far, with 89.

"Coach puts players in the best spot he thinks they can make plays. That's it," Johnson said. "If he thinks you can make better plays in the regular or nickel, that's what he's going to do. The players have much respect for the way he does the system."

On Saturday, however, the final home game of Johnson's career figures to put him more into the action. While new Southeastern Conference foes Missouri and Texas A&M only added to the league's spread offense presence, Auburn dumped the spread for a pro-style attack this year.

"Trey DePriest and Nico have done a good job. They haven't probably gotten as many opportunities because of the style of offenses that we've had to play against," Saban added. "They'll both get an opportunity to play this week. And we're hopeful that they'll both play extremely well."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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