One of the more impressive players at this weekend’s Cincinnati Bengals rookie minicamp was quarterback Matt Johnson, an undrafted free agent from Bowling Green.
Johnson has the arm strength and accuracy that NFL coaches love, but he went undrafted primarily because he’s 5-foot-11.
He said he knows that’s never going to change, but people’s perceptions certainly can.
“I’ve been 5-11 since high school,” he said. “I didn’t get highly recruited because of my height. I’ve proved that I can play at the college level when people didn’t think I could because of my height. Now the knock on me again is my height. I have to every day prove that that’s not going to affect me.”
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Johnson threw for 4,946 yards and 46 touchdowns with just eight interceptions as a senior and was named the Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year in addition to winning the Sammy Baugh Award, presented to the nation’s top passer.
In his three games against Power 5 opponents, Johnson threw for 424 yards and two touchdowns in a loss against Tennessee; 491 yards and six touchdowns in a victory at Maryland; and 402 yards and a touchdown in a win at Purdue.
“I think he’s got great anticipation and a very strong arm,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “(Despite his height), the balls are coming out at a good release point. He’s used to functioning that way. To do that in the NFL, you’re going to have to adjust a bit if he were your quarterback.
“He’s shown the ability to throw accurate footballs,” Lewis continued. “I thought he did a good job out there. Its impressive how he’s throwing it from his point.”
Johnson also talked with Minnesota, Indianapolis and Atlanta, but he picked the Bengals even though they have two established quarterbacks on the roster in Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron and another, Keith Wenning, who has been in the system for a full year.
Johnson said new Bengals quarterback Bill Lazor was a big reason for his decision.
“It just felt right, honestly,” he said. “I really developed a good relationship with coach Lazor throughout the process. I knew if I did get drafted it was going to be late, but realistically I was thinking I would be an undrafted free agent. That was going to be nice to have my choice of team.”
Johnson, who most likely will compete with Wenning for a spot on the team’s practice squad, said he’s eager to get back on the field with the full squad, which is something he’ll be able to do Monday when the Bengals begin their fourth week of voluntary offseason workouts.
“I know everything’s going to seem faster, but I’m just looking forward to competing when the veterans get back and seeing what the NFL speed is really like,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to talking to AJ and Andy. I’m looking forward to learning as much as I possibly can from those guys, just soaking in all the information that they can give me, along with coach Lazor.”
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