Matt Johnson’s NFL career is like an iPod stuck on repeat: Injury, rehabilitation, answering questions from the media about injuries.
Johnson, 25, enters his third NFL season – all with the Dallas Cowboys – yet hasn’t played in an NFL game because of hamstring injuries to both legs and foot surgery last fall. The 2007 Tumwater High graduate’s only on-field action was 12 snaps of an exhibition game last August.
Johnson has already been injured this year, tweaking his hamstring in the training camp last week. He’s doubtful/won’t play in the Cowboys’ first exhibition game, which is Thursday against the San Diego Chargers.
After a stellar career with the Thunderbirds and Eastern Washington, where he had 17 career interceptions at safety and helped the Eagles win the 2010 Football Championship Subdivision national title, the Cowboys drafted Johnson in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
How Johnson adapts to the NFL, however, remains a mystery.
This latest hamstring injury – which happened July 27 to his left leg, the one with “the most problems,” he said – is a trend he described as “super frustrating.”
“I’ve done a bunch of extra stuff … the first one there and the last to leave, just doing recovery stuff to make sure I’m getting ready,” Johnson said in a phone interview from the team’s training facility in Oxnard, California. “I’ve done everything I can think of.”
That includes watching his diet and staying hydrated to practicing yoga and rolfing (an alternative medical treatment to reposition skin tissue). Injuries also led to his twin brother, Zach, to retire from professional football weeks after agreeing to terms with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Matt Johnson knows the pressure on him to stay healthy has intensified. He also tries to stay clear of Dallas-area news sites and social media, where fans have already written him off.
“I want to be out there and play,” he said. “I know the fact that they’ve (the Cowboys) kept me around and showed confidence in me. I want to prove them right.
“The hardest thing for me is to sit and not be able to go through the grind with everyone.”
The Cowboys, more importantly, seem to believe in Johnson. At his pre-draft workout, his 40-yard dash time (4.54 seconds), vertical leap (38.5 inches), bench press (18 repetitions at 225 pounds) and broad jump (121 inches) hinted at what-could-be.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett isn’t ready to give up on Johnson just yet.
“It’s very easy with a guy like that to say, ‘Hey, go somewhere else and start anew. We’re moving on,’ ” Garrett told reporters last week from camp. “But there’s enough there with Matt that we feel like he has a chance.”
Despite barely being on the field, Johnson has learned that being a part of “America’s Team” means a higher profile.
He said he is recognized at Dallas-area grocery stores and doesn’t mind chatting with avid Cowboys fans about football.
He just wishes he was able to be known more for playing than being hurt.
“I want to get back to loving the game of football and love playing it,” he said. “I just want to have fun playing football. It’s been a long time since I’ve consistently had fun on the football field.”