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September 10, 2013

Johnson Battling to return to the Field

Georgia Tech senior safety Isaiah Johnson has been cleared for full contact and is inching his way back into the lineup for the Yellow Jackets. Johnson told Jacketsonline he is getting closer to playing, he isn't sure when he will be ready both physically and mentally to play at the level he wants to play at.

"I think it is a mind thing and I changed back into a blue jersey so I could get more comfortable," Johnson said. Having the gold (non-contact) jersey on was holding me back a little bit. I think the blue jersey is a confidence builder."

Johnson is coming off ACL surgery that kept him out of the Sun Bowl last year and he says that he feels like he cannot run the way he wants to yet and that is why he is not playing.

"I want to play fast and play hard. I feel like if I come back too soon and slow up or think too much I am going to get hurt," he said. "I need to play faster and maintain and keep playing fast so I don't get hurt."

Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof and Johnson came to an agreement on how much and what type of work the senior will do in practice and he continued those drills on Tuesday and was not involved in the live eleven-on-eleven work.

"Coach Roof and I have a mutual agreement to take baby steps and make it a day-by-day process," Johnson said. "Over the next couple of practices I will progress more."

Johnson says he has not ruled out a redshirt year this year. He will graduate in the spring and he has not redshirted so he could take a light class load and return for the 2014 season if he is not ready to go by midseason.

"Anything is possible and if I needed to and it came down to (redshirting) I will. At this point, I have to do what is best for me. If I need to step down this year and come back next year, then I will do that," he said.

Multiple 2014 NFL mock drafts projections list Johnson as a top 15 safety in the 2014 draft meaning he would be picked by the fourth round. Johnson says those projections along with feedback he got last year when he submitted paperwork to the NFL for evaluations are leading him to be more cautious about a return to the field early this year.

"I'm doing this not just to finish this season, but to doing this so I can play multiple seasons on the next level and further my career. I need to make sure I am all the way healed before I step back on the field."

Johnson watched as a Tech commitment Morgan Burnett drop for a likely first or second round pick to a third round pick when he played his entire senior year with turf toe and other nagging injuries. Mario Butler and Rod Sweeting also fell down from projected spots in the draft after injury plagued senior years at Tech, so Johnson says seeing all that has led to some hesitation on returning too quickly.

"I've seen multiple examples of players playing through injuries and falling in the draft so I am trying not to fall into that category," he said.

For Roof, it is a waiting game and he says he has complete trust in his safety to decide when it is time to return.

"I got complete and whole trust in (Isaiah) and he knows his body better than we do. He is a competitor and no one wants to get back on the field more than he does," Roof said. "I'm going to let him and the doctors decide. He is going to make a good decision and we sure could use him. You want to do what is best for the team and you want to do what is best for the young man. He has been nothing but fantastic about everything since I have been here with his attitude and work ethic. We all want the best for Isaiah because he has been a great player and teammate and leader in the locker room."

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