With Davis gone, linebacker Johnson gets chance to play up to his hype
CHARLOTTE - Landon Johnson came to Carolina armed with a big contract and a gaudy resume.
Twenty months and 24 games later, Johnson likely will get the opportunity to start full-time - by default - after the season-ending knee injury to weakside linebacker Thomas Davis.
For Johnson, who led Cincinnati in tackles in three of his first four pro seasons, it's a chance to jump-start a once-promising career.
"When I got here, for whatever reason, I just didn't play up to my expectations," Johnson said Wednesday. "It was tough. It was really the first time that I hadn't started ever since I played football.
"My heart goes out to Thomas getting hurt. But I have an opportunity to go out and play well."
Signing the 6-foot-2, 232-pound Johnson to a three-year, $10 million free-agent deal in March 2008 was one of the biggest moves for the Panthers before last season. The Panthers were impressed with his versatility - he started at all three linebacker spots in the Bengals' 4-3 defense - and he was coming off a career-high 143 tackles in 2007.
Johnson was expected to replace aging Na'il Diggs at one of the outside linebacker spots, teaming with Davis and Jon Beason to give Carolina a young unit that would stay together for years.
Instead, Diggs easily kept his job and Johnson sunk to near oblivion. He played almost exclusively on special teams and was even a healthy scratch for a late-season game against Atlanta.
Johnson finished with seven tackles in 15 games.
"There are no excuses for it," Johnson said. "I didn't go out there and perform as well as I would have liked to."
Johnson, who received a $3 million signing bonus, had to take a pay cut last offseason to keep his job and help get the Panthers under the salary cap. He didn't challenge for a starting spot in training camp and didn't record a tackle on defense in the first five games.
But when Davis was sidelined with a strained hamstring, Johnson started on Oct. 25 against Buffalo and had 10 tackles. Davis returned the next week, but he was lost for the season Sunday against New Orleans when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.