The coaches expect more out of Johnson this season and he has responded with what some close to the program characterize as the best camp of his career. Unfortunately, Johnson has struggled, at times, with what appeared to be inconsistent effort.
Now, according to London (via Doug Doughty's article in The Roanoke Times), it appears that Johnson might have an explanation for his up and down enery levels. Routine tests run by the NCAA determined that Johnson has the trait for sickle-cell anemia, a genetic disorder. This doesn't mean that Johnson has the disease but that he can develop it. Sickle-cell anemia, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute can cause long-term pain and/or fatigue to its victims.
Johnson wouldn't speak on the record for Doughty, but London didn't sound willing to use the ailment as an excuse for his star defender.
"He has a chance to be as good as he wants to be," London said. "He's not an every-down player right now, in my estimation. He's a guy that plays every down but, to be an every-down difference-maker, he's got to raise it up another notch."Johnson may not want to talk to the media about his condition, but NFL doctors will definitely be talking to him and testing him should he get invited to the Combine. Teams are notoriously hesitant to invest draft picks in players that they have red-flagged for medical reasons, but Johnson can certainly ease some of their concern with a big senior season.
"The NCAA tests all athletes now for these traits," London said. "I don't know if there's a correlation to (not) being in the best cardiovascular shape. I don't know if medication changes that, but there's greater awareness. He's had this for a couple of years.
"You can go hard for two or three plays; then, on that fifth or sixth play, you're gassed. In workouts this summer with (strength coach) Evan (Marcus), he'd be out front, out front, out front. Then, all of a sudden, it's, 'What are you doing?'
"Now it becomes a matter of management. Get him out, get him rested, get him back in."
Johnson is currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 14 ranked defensive end among players potentially eligible for the 2012 draft. This ranking includes underclassmen. Johnson was given a mid-round grade by pro scouts in the spring.