The "freak show" is the name which head coach Urban Meyer demonstratively refers to the Ohio State field goal and punt block units. Meyer uses the phrase as a form of applauds, when describing the group of special teams players that possess unbelievable or surreal physical abilities and a propensity for making big plays.
One of the most important members the special teams unit as well as the defense is Orhian Johnson. The one man freak show.
"For me, it is all about being close to the action and having the chance to make plays whenever I can," Johnson said.
Johnson has seen more action on special teams than any other Buckeye heading into the game Saturday vs. Purdue. Through six games he has been part of more than 80 snaps on special teams.
Since his arrival to campus, Meyer has preached the importance of special teams and its tendency to be a momentum changer. Johnson has embraced the philosophy and his goal on special teams is to always generate a positive result regardless of the situation.
Additionally Johnson is busy making plays in the Buckeye secondary. Through the first six games of the season, the St. Petersburg Fla., native has 24 tackles, six pass break ups and two interceptions. Those numbers are even more impressive when one considers he saw limited playing time in the first game of the season against Miami University Sept. 1, when his only recorded stat was a tackle.
However, following impressive practices after the Buckeye season opener vs. the Red Hawks, Johnson was given an opportunity to play defensive back in the game vs. UCF Sept. 8 and did not disappoint. He was second on the team in tackles with six, recorded a pass break up, intercepted a pass in the red zone that kept UCF from scoring and blocked an extra point.
After the game, Meyer commented he was very involved in the decision to get Johnson on the field more in the "star" position - a hybrid of safety, linebacker and corner back - because the team needed more production out of that position. Knowing Meyer has confidence in him has only fueled Johnson's continued desire to go out and do everything he can to help the team win.
"It means the world to me knowing my coach believes in me and he'll fight for me," Johnson said. "It makes me realize, even more, when I line up across from somebody I'm not just out there playing for myself and teammates, but always trying to make Coach Meyer proud."
Johnson possessed dynamic physical abilities even before he became part of the the field goal block unit. In high school, he played quarterback, as well as safety.
"I probably could have won the Heisman if I kept playing quarterback" Johnson said. "But Ohio State saw me as a better fit at safety, so I listened to the coaches and embraced the position."
Playing both positions has been beneficial for Johnson because as a defensive player his goal is to read the quarterback and know in a split second what he is planning to do with the ball. Johnson strives to put himself, as well as his teammates, in a position to make a play.
"Having played offense and defense in high school, I learned to think like whatever position I wasn't playing," Johnson said. "So on defense I would often read plays based on what kinds of routes my receivers would have been running and who should be open if I were the quarterback."
One thing is for sure, Johnson's athleticism shines through regardless of the position he is playing and right now Ohio State is more than happy to have him blocking kicks, making tackles, breaking up passes and intercepting the ball whenever he is on the field.
By John W. Samuelson