Will Johnson is a true freshman who arrived in Ann Arbor as a five-star prospect and one of the best cornerbacks in the class of 2022. As the season rolls on, Johnson is earning more snaps on defense.
“He’s right there where he needs to be,” co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said on Inside Michigan Football on Monday. “He continues to play more each game. We started giving him 15 to 30 snaps a game with snaps with special teams and defense. He’s right there, I think we can keep adding to his plate.”
Johnson is hungry and wants more on his plate, and a chat he recently had with Michigan great Charles Woodson motivated him even more. Johnson wears No. 2 for the Wolverines, usually given to a player on Michigan’s defense they feel will have an exceptional career. Naturally, when Woodson ran into Johnson when he was covering the Maryland-Michigan game for Fox Sports, he had to mention the No. 2 and what it means to wear it.
“Charles Woodson was at the Maryland game, and he came up to me and was like, ‘got the number on? Got to make a play.’ Just knowing that in my head, to be good in that number. It’s always gonna push me while I got it on, for sure.”
Woodson was a Heisman winner wearing No. 2, and he was as versatile a playmaker as there will ever be in college football — Woodson had 238 receiving yards, three offensive touchdowns, 301 punt return yards and a score. On defense, Woodson had 47 tackles, eight interceptions, and one sack.
Johnson’s skill set is similar to Woodson’s in the sense he’s already shown he can contribute on offense, defense, and special teams. As a senior in high school Johnson had 1,302 all-purpose yards with one punt-return touchdown along with 42 receptions for 667 yards and six touchdowns.
Clinkscale told Johnson recently to not worry about what outside expectations there are in the social media age, he wants him to just focus on the process.
“I really kind of told him, listen, just play your game, don’t worry about pleasing anybody. Just worry about just getting better every day, stacking each day on top of each day and improving. He’s really hard on himself. Most good players, most great players are.”
Clinkscale says Johnson is mature and is picking up the defense well. For players such as Johnson it doesn’t sound like a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. With defensive backs on the roster such as D.J. Turner, Gemon Green, and Mike Sainristil, Johnson’s path to playing time has been gradual due, but the way Johnson looks at it is he’s pushing them, and they’re pushing him.
“Everybody’s playing really good so my role right now is just to come in when they need me to. Right now, we’re just all trying to get better every day and push each other. That’s really my job right now, to try to push them. Make sure they get better, and they make sure I get better. They help me out even though I’m trying to take their spot. We just try to make each other better every day.”
Michigan could need Johnson in major ways the rest of the season, and if he’s as advertised, he’ll rep the No. 2 very well for the Wolverines.