After quiet season, LSU’s Anthony Johnson is left wanting more

TAMPA, Fla. — In the video, Anthony Johnson is seen at a football summer camp performing tests to determine his agility, strength and pass-rushing skills.

The players at the camp are awestruck. Coaches are stunned.

No one can block the 16-year-old kid, a high school sophomore soon to be named the nation’s best defensive tackle prospect.

Johnson blows by one pass protector in about 2 seconds and makes another look foolish by popping a quarterback dummy in 3 seconds.

The final attempt at blocking Johnson fails miserably. In a half-second, he slips past a lineman and taps the dummy.

“Ooooh,” a few spectators say.

More than four years later, Johnson sits in the lobby of the LSU team hotel in Tampa, Fla., the Westin Tampa Harbour Island, scrolling through his cell phone.

He’s perky as usual. He’s laughing, smiling and poking a teammate.

Inside, he’s hurting.

“He feels like he should have done more,” said Emmanuel Powell, Johnson’s high school coach at O. Perry Walker High School. “He speaks of not being happy with his play, as he should.”

Johnson’s expected breakout season this year turned into an average 12-game tour.

In a dozen starts, he finished with 32 tackles — 13th on the team and just two more than he had in a reserve role a season ago. He had three sacks, only equaling his 2012 total, and he had two fewer tackles for loss, with seven.

This was supposed to be Johnson’s banner season, his first as a full-time starter after waiting for two years behind older talents.

It was billed as a year in which Johnson would justify his former status as the country’s top-ranked defensive tackle prospect exiting high school, a season in which he’d live up to that formidable nickname — “The Freak.”

“Honestly, man, it wasn’t the best season I’ve had statistically since I’ve been an LSU Tiger,” he admitted recently. “It’s been a rough stretch, but I feel like I gave it my all.”

Johnson has at least one more shot at displaying the talents seen in that 2009 video of an unstoppable high school sophomore with quick feet and a baffling first move. No. 14 LSU (9-3) meets Iowa (8-4) on Wednesday in the Outback Bowl.

Johnson’s role couldn’t be larger. The Hawkeyes have run for more than 200 yards in six games this season. They play an old-school brand of smash-mouth football.

“They come straight at you,” linebacker Lamin Barrow said.

Many think this is Johnson’s final game at LSU.

Yahoo Sports reported last week, citing an anonymous source, that Johnson was one of five LSU players “leaning” toward making the early leap to the NFL. They include receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., defensive tackle Ego Ferguson and left tackle La’el Collins.

Johnson isn’t revealing his decision or thoughts on the subject, but he has discussed it with his family. Powell said Johnson, like many draft-eligible LSU players, has requested an opinion from the NFL Advisory Board. Underclassmen must declare for the draft by Jan. 15.

“I don’t want to say he’s definitely coming out,” said Powell, who stays in contact with Johnson.

Ferguson outshined Johnson in many ways. Ferguson, not Johnson, is LSU’s best shot at having a player drafted in the first round of the draft, said Rob Rang, NFL draft analysts for CBSSports.com.

Ferguson had 26 more tackles than Johnson this season — a result, some suggest, of Johnson drawing double teams.

“He cleared the way for a lot of other players to step up and fill the holes,” fullback Connor Neighbors said. “He’s got a motor that a lot of people wish they had. He’s going to play for a long time, no matter what.”

Of defensive tackles, Johnson is ranked 10th and is projected to be selected between the third and fourth rounds of the draft, according to CBSSports.com.

It could be a shocking end for a player who most felt was second to only Jadeveon Clowney among defensive lineman recruits in 2010-11.

Johnson set the state high school career sack record with 67.5, was a Parade All-American and was the first defensive lineman to win the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year Award.

Former Tennessee defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin dubbed him “The Freak” during a recruiting visit. And Johnson, even before this season, referred to himself as an attacking silverback gorilla poised for a big season.

He was voted on one preseason All-America team and was on the watch list for a host of individual awards.

“I feel like I have something to prove,” he said in August. “This year, I’m ready to show the world what they’ve been waiting for — not only that I can play football, but great football.”

It never materialized. Why?

Johnson, teammates and Powell point to two things: nagging injuries and double teams.

Johnson said he has been fighting elbow and knee injuries this year. Powell called the elbow injury “bad” but wouldn’t expound.

Johnson reveals little about the injuries.

“I wasn’t 100 percent this year, injury-wise,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’m never going to let people see it.”

Johnson finished outside the top 50 in tackles in the Southeastern Conference and outside the top 10 in sacks and tackles for loss. Still, he found himself on The Associated Press and coaches’ All-SEC squads.

Small consolation for a player who hasn’t just lived up to everyone else’s expectations — he hasn’t met his own.

“He always,” Powell said, “feels like he needs to make a play or two that he didn’t make.”