The senior wide receiver is looking forward to playing with Justin Herbert
Juwan Johnson looks like he arrived straight from Hollywood central casting.
The physically imposing 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior appears to be a perfect fit for Oregon’s wide receiver group, which must replace Dillon Mitchell’s production.
“That’s a big dude, cool dude,” running back Darrian Felix noted. “That’s a good addition for us. I’m glad he’s here.”
What has impressed offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo the most about the trumpeted Penn State graduate transfer is that Johnson isn’t acting like he expects to be anointed as Justin Herbert’s new go-to target.
“The thing that’s best about Juwan is really how engaged he’s been,” Arroyo said after the Ducks’ 10th spring practice Thursday in the Moshofsky Center. “He didn’t come out here as a guy who has played a ton, which he has. He’s played a lot, he’s been in a big-time program, in big-time games. He’s been really humble. His work ethic and the way he’s been, come early and stay late, that’s really good to see. I think that’s good for our young guys to see, too.
“It’s been an awesome experience for him so far.”
Johnson said he wanted to be a part of the Oregon experience coming out of high school after watching De’Anthony Thomas and LaMichael James on television while growing up in Glassboro, N.J.
“My mom, at the time, was like, ‘No, that’s too far,’” Johnson said. “Now I’m sort of a man on my own and paving my way, writing my own story. So I came out here and wanted to live out my childhood dream and play for Oregon.”
Johnson played on defense as a freshman and had 81 receptions for 1,123 yards and two touchdowns during his two years after switching to receiver with the Nittany Lions.
During his sophomore season, Johnson made a game-winning touchdown catch against Iowa and finished with six receptions for 66 yards in Penn State’s 35-28 win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
After playing with star running back Saquon Barkley and productive dual-threat quarterback Trace McSorley, Johnson is looking forward to being a part of Herbert’s senior season with the Ducks.
“We’re kind of building a relationship,” Johnson said of his first full week of spring practice at Oregon. “I’m trying to feel him out, he’s trying to feel me out.”
Mitchell led the Pac-12 with 75 receptions for 1,184 yards and 10 touchdowns last season as a junior. He decided to try to cash in on his breakout junior campaign by entering the NFL draft.
Jaylon Redd (315 yards, two touchdowns), Brenden Schooler (203 yards, one touchdown) and Johnny Johnson (215 yards, four touchdowns) all have starting experience. True freshmen Mycah Pittman and Josh Delgado and redshirt freshmen Bryan Addison, Isaah Crocker and JJ Tucker will push the veterans for spots in the rotation.
“I guess the lost production is what drew me here, playing with Justin Herbert was also something that drew me here,” said Juwan Johnson, who was working with the first-team offense during the portion of Thursday’s practice open to the media. “A lot of factors factored into it. I think the big part was me taking a leap of faith coming to the West Coast, being an East Coast boy, just sort of finding my way around life I guess, exploring and trying something new to create my brand.”
The wide receiving core was branded as a unit that dropped too many balls last season. Juwan Johnson let a couple of simple 5-yard passes by Herbert slip through his fingers Thursday.
“Dropped balls are a part of the game. I’ve had my own woes with dropped passes,” Juwan Johnson said. “We’re working together and during spring ball sort of making up for those. Whenever you have a dropped pass, you’re doing push-ups. We haven’t seen too many of those. We’re all working together to eliminate those woes and those dropped passes “
Coach Mario Cristobal said Juwan Johnson’s presence would “immediately elevate” the competition at wide receiver.
With the return of Herbert, who would have been in the ongoing conversation to be the top pick in the upcoming NFL draft had he left, the Ducks’ great expectations for the 2019 season are not lost on the new guy.
“I’m not going to release any depth chart or anything like that. For me, it’s sort of to be a leader,” Juwan Johnson said of his role on an offense that returns 10 starters. “That’s my job here is to come in and be a leader, bring that sort of energy to the room, energy to the team, bring those guys up so we can win a Pac-12 championship, national championship, those things, taking it one game at a time.”