This time last year, Clemson was worried about its options at safety.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney felt good about starters K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse. However, there was no experienced depth behind them or many bodies for that matter. They knew eventually they would need Nolan Turner and Denzel Johnson to step up and be more consistent on the back end of the defense.
By the end of the year, Turner and Johnson were in games in a lot of key situations. At one point in the national championship game against Alabama, all four safeties were on the field at the same time.
“All four of those guys can start for us,” Swinney said.
In one year, the safety position went from a weakness to a strength. Johnson is one guy who has helped strengthen the position and the redshirt senior has done it with a great attitude.
“Denzel is a starter for us,” Swinney said. “Some games he might run out there first depending on what package we are in. Some games he might not run out there first, but he is a starter on this football team. He starts on special teams and he is really a valuable member of this team.”
Though Swinney calls Johnson a starter, he has officially never started for the Tigers. He has played in 41 games the last three years, including all 15 games last year. His snap total went up from just 107 his first two seasons to 378 in 2018.
“He had a heck of a year for us last year,” Swinney said. “He really came through big time.”
Swinney says Johnson’s story is what the game of football is all about. He is a guy that never gave up on his dream and persevered even when the deck was stacked against him.
“This is what I love to see,” the Clemson coach said. “He is a perfect example of a guy that just hung in there and he is a really good football player now, and a guy that will get a legit shot at the next level.
“He is a talented athlete that has really become a very functional guy in our secondary with some versatility.”
Johnson finished last season with 40 tackles from his safety position. He also had two tackles for loss and broke up three passes.
“I’m proud of him,” Swinney said.