Jim Mora raved about one of his defensive backs following Saturday’s win over Colorado.
“I’m a big-time Mossi Johnson fan – I just love the kid to death,” the coach said. “He’s tough as heck, he’s a Crenshaw kid. He’s a leader, he’s been voted captain the past two weeks, he practices like crazy.”
But the senior didn’t start his UCLA career in the secondary.
Johnson was a three-star recruit thanks to his ability to defend the pass. Scout.com ranked him as the nation’s No. 57 cornerback, but UCLA started him out as a receiver. His 23 catches during Brett Hundley’s final season come in at the second-highest total by a true freshman in school history.
A knee injury put an end to Johnson’s sophomore season, during which he spent some time on defense, but was primarily still a receiver. He played a similar role as a junior.
Johnson made the full switch back to defense earlier this year at spring camp, and so far, it’s been working out. The senior has seen an increased role in the secondary recently, garnering a large share of the snaps as a deep safety on passing downs.
Over the Bruins’ past three games, Johnson has made six tackles, including a season-high three Sunday against Colorado. He cited his feel for the game as the key to his quick transition onto defense.
“Just really I brought my football awareness with me,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice. “Not saying that I have superb (defensive back) ability, but I just feel like I can play football very well. So I can make a couple plays as a defensive back just by knowing my assignment and being in the right spot.”
Following a pair of games in which the defense gave up 48 and 58 points, one of the biggest points of emphasis from coaches and players was making sure that everyone on the defense was executing their role properly, and not veering away from their assignments.
“Sometimes when you try to play everything you play nothing,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley in advance of the matchup against the Buffs. “As simple as it sounds, there’s basic fundamentals, lining up the proper way, doing everything the exact right way, not sometimes but all the times.”
In Johnson’s comments Tuesday, he echoed that sentiment, revealing why he’s a player worthy of a head coach’s praise.
“It was fun, I had a lot of fun being where I was supposed to be at, at all times,” Johnson said. “Making the plays that came to me, not really trying to force anything, and just knowing that when I’m back, I’m back.”