Montana's Trumaine Johnson: Water boy, safety, whatever

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 27, 2012 - 6:26 AM

The University of Montana cornerback is counting on his adaptability for a chance on the NFL's next level.

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Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson broke up a pass intended for Weber State’s Tim Toole last fall. The versatile Johnson might be moved to safety in the NFL.

Photo: Mike Albans, Associated Press

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INDIANAPOLIS — Trumaine Johnson walks through his football timeline with obvious pride in his versatility. He'll fondly recount his days as a star quarterback at Edison High School in California. Which was before he was recruited by colleges as a wide receiver. Which was before he was quickly converted on his second day of practice at the University of Montana into a cornerback.

And now there's talk Johnson might have to consider a shift to safety when he joins the NFL ranks later this spring.

Not a problem, he notes with a shrug. Adaptability is in his nature. Johnson will play anywhere.

"When I say anywhere on the field, I mean water boy, I mean receiver, cornerback, safety, lineman," he said. "Whatever you need me to do, I'm going to do it."

In the next eight weeks, in the hyperanalyzed lead-up to the NFL draft, Johnson will garner significant attention, an intriguing prospect currently slotted in the mid-second- to mid-third-round range. He's a two-time Walter Camp All-America with impressive size (6-2, 204 pounds), speed and instincts. He also started 46 games during his college career.

Yet his ability and his willingness to try multiple positions makes him the kind of prospect Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier will take an extra long look at. Said Spielman: "With the passing game that's in the NFL right now, especially in our division, you almost have to have safeties who have coverage skills that can make plays in the passing game."

A year ago, the Vikings drafted South Florida cornerback Mistral Raymond in the sixth round and quickly converted him to safety. Those types of transitions may become more commonplace.

"The way people spread you out now in the league, you like to find guys like that," Frazier said. "I think it's important for us to be able to find guys who have the cover ability in the secondary who can kind of find the football as well. So, yeah, those guys are intriguing."

Johnson certainly fits that mold. And while he understands the leap from the Big Sky Conference to the NFL is huge, he certainly doesn't lack confidence.

Through the rest of the pre-draft process, Johnson will continue trying to remove worries that he didn't face enough elite competition in the Football Championship Subdivision. Johnson was dominant on that level but also made sure to sidestep any complacency trapdoors.

"Coming from a smaller school, they say you can get lazy, you can get bored because teams aren't throwing your way," Johnson said. "But I believe you can always improve on your technique. And going to the next level, you're going to need that."

With his draft stock rising, Johnson reflects on his first college game, a 30-28 victory over Cal Poly in 2008. In the first half, Johnson said, he was "torched" by Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden, who's now with the New York Giants.

What soothed Johnson was how little worry he felt during those struggles. "No doubts," he said. "Welcome to college."

Who knows how or where Johnson's "Welcome to the NFL" moment will unfold. He envisions himself quickly jelling into a reliable starting cornerback, believing he's fits a similar mold as Eagles standout Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both are big, fast corners who like to hit.

But if it turns out that an NFL team feels he's better suited to slide to safety, Johnson is cool with that, too. "I'll play any position the coach wants me to play," he said.

Which only adds to his value.

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