Even though he technically came in off the bench, head coach Jerry Kill considered Roland Johnson a starter on the defensive line in 2012. Johnson most apparently showed his value to the team when he made a career-high seven tackles in the Gophers' win at Illinois last season.
Unfortunately, he did not have a chance to carry that momentum into the last three games of the year. Johnson suffered a season-ending ACL tear in practice during the next week.
Johnson played 10 games before his injury in 2012.
The defensive tackle, who transferred from Butler Community College for the 2012 season, is back out on the field and at full strength getting ready for his senior year. Johnson's recovery has come a long way since spring practice.
"It's a lot different," he said. "It was killing me to run in the spring. I just thank God, and thanks to the trainers and the strength coaches."
The physical difficulty of ACL rehab is one thing, but Johnson said the mental side is the toughest part.
"You really won't understand it unless you really get injured," he said.
After a major injury, it can be hard to practice and play with the same mindset as before the injury. Even nine months after tearing his ACL, the possibility of reinjury still lurks in the back of Johnson's mind.
"You always think about it, but you've just got to fight through it."
Kill said the staff has not needed to ease Johnson back into the full swing of practice. He has liked what he's seen from No. 92 four days into camp.
"I think sometimes when you come off a knee surgery like that you're tentative, certainly in stuff like we're doing now," Kill said. "He's looked very good, very sharp, strong. I feel good about us up front on the defensive line. ...I feel good about his progress. He's worked hard. He's worked really hard with our training staff to get back after knee surgery. Hats of to his work."
With returning starters Ra'Shede Hageman and Cameron Botticelli, along with guys like sophomore Scott Ekpe and redshirt freshman Yoshoub Timms, Johnson is in good company in the defensive interior. After a long road back from surgery, the battle for a spot near the top of the depth chart is just beginning.
"I love competition, so that's a plus for me."
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