Keelan Johnson: I Can Be A Leader In The Eagles Secondary


Eagles safety Keelan Johnson (38) along the sidelines during the game against the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field. Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you are familiar with Keelan Johnson or not, Inside The Iggles gives you the chance to learn more about him.

Keelan Johnson was one of the best safeties of PAC-12 Conference in 2012. He finished the 2012 college football season with 88 total tackles (65 solo), five interceptions and he was a member of the ASU Sundevils secondary that finished 10th nationally and first in PAC-12 in passing efficiency defense (105.45). He received an All PAC-12 honorable mention that year (more info here).

Johnson, however, didn’t enter the NFL in a ceremonious way. He went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft, despite having a good senior season. He signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, then he was let go during the final cuts of the preseason.

He was then signed to the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad. With Earl Wolff and Patrick Chung struggling to stay healthy, Johnson made it to the 53-man roster in December and played in the last two games of the regular season.

The interview:

1) It’s the time of year when draft prospects are trying to improve their draft stock at Pro Days and private workouts. Can you describe us the post-combine daily routine of a player entering the draft?

KJ: For most of us this is the biggest job opportunity we have ever encounter until that moment. With that being said, many of us devote our entire life to working out, watching what we eat on a daily basis and even search for many methods to outperform and/or outshine our competition come draft day.

2) Did you enjoy the process last year or was it a daunting task? What else do you remember fondly from this period? 

KJ: The process is exciting, but at the same time exhausting mainly due to the fact that everyone wants to make that great first impression to ensure their longevity in this league. The thought of actually getting an opportunity to pursue a childhood dream is unbelievable. The feeling that comes from making it on a team; I don’t think words do justice to express that feeling of knowing you’ve accomplished something a lot of people would die for.

3) You had a good senior season at ASU with 88 tackles and five interceptions. You also performed well in the East-West Shrine game, the Scouting Combine and your Pro Day. With all that in mind, were you confident you were going to be selected in the draft?

KJ: To be honest, yes I was! I felt that I was the best safety coming out that year with the most versatility regardless what scouts said about other players or where they had them going in the draft. Unfortunately, I wasn’t and at that point I felt disrespected seeing other safeties coming off the board before I did, just because their teams had better records or whatever the reason may have been.

4) The Eagles signed you to their practice squad in September. Had they talked to you before, like in the combine or before the 2013 draft?

KJ: I had a few talks with the Eagles during the week of the combine and even spoke with Chip Kelly on the phone during draft day about becoming an Eagle. It didn’t work out right then and there as they chose a player at a different position, that they might needed to fill. I feel that playing against Chip Kelly and his staff in college gave me a worthy chance of being able to play with him at this level.

5) You, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff are the only safeties on the roster that were with the team last year. Do you feel you can make an impact in 2014 and even make a case for one of the two starting spots?

KJ: I don’t want to doubt any player because I too was overlooked but I feel that if I go out to work everyday with that desire to win and want to be great on a consistent basis, then making my way into that starting role will take care of itself.

6) From the team’s free agency acquisitions, it has become apparent that there is a focus on special teams. You have a lot of experience in this part of the game. Do you think you can be a factor as a special teams player?

KJ: Malcolm X said it best by “Any Means Necessary”. If it takes me playing special teams, I’m all for it. I’ve seen players in this league that their only focus is special teams and have made a career out of it.

7) The Eagles have missed a leader in their back end since Brian Dawkins left in 2009. Can you picture yourself being that leader in the future?

KJ: That seems to be everyone’s question when they hear safety and Philadelphia in the same sentence. I loved Brian Dawkins game and is one of my idols, especially at the safety position but I have the mindset to achieve everything he’s done and more. I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon so yeah, I do see myself as a leader in the secondary.

8) Where do you think the Eagles currently stand among the competition?

KJ: Don’t really feel like getting into to many details but I will confidently say that this team is definitely a Super Bowl contender. When you step foot into the locker room everyday you can see the determination and work ethic on each and every person’s face.

9) How would you describe defensive coordinator Bill Davis and head coach Chip Kelly?

KJ: Billy Davis is a smart defensive coordinator that pays attention to the little details of the opposing offense and shares his little information with us during defensive meetings. Chip is a passionate, fired up coach and when he speaks to the group we just listen because at any second you can miss a valuable life lesson. Very confident in his players and strongly believes that there is not a single team in this league that is capable of hanging with us all 4 quarters.

10) Let’s talk a bit about you. Which are the characteristics of your game that you proud yourself of and which are the aspects you want to improve?

KJ: I pride myself on being a physical player/tackler that finds it embarrassing when I miss a tackle. An area of my game to improve on is keep learning because I will never know everything but I’ll always continue to find an answer to problems.

11) What’s your all-time favorite NFL player? If not a safety, who is your favorite all-time safety?

KJ: Sean Taylor, Brian Dawkins and Earl Thomas are my favorite NFL players.

12) Why you chose no.38?

KJ: (Laughs) I didn’t want no.38, it was just what I was given. I wish numbers weren’t based on positions – I wouldn’t mind wearing 10 again. I’ll get a chance to change my number sooner or later but right now 38 is starting to grow on me.

13) Do you enjoy your time in Philadelphia? Is there a particular place you like to hang out at?

KJ: I like being here in Philly. The fans really make it a lot easier to wanna stay here and play for the city!

14) Last one: Anything you’d like to say to Eagles fans?

KJ: Keep an eye out for no.38 and I’ll return the favor this season!

At this point, we’d like to thank Keelan Johnson for taking the time to do this interview. We wish him every success as an Eagle. You can follow him on Twitter (@3hree8ight).