NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Just prior to the start of training camp, Titans rookie defensive lineman Austin Johnson had breakfast with Bob Shoop, his former defensive coordinator at Penn State.
Johnson received some advice, and at the end of their meeting, he made Shoop a promise.
"He told me to keep a level head and absorb everything I can,'' Johnson said of Shoop, who's now defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. "We've always had a good connection. I could talk to him about anything when I was in college. And he is one of the smartest guys I have ever been around. He wants what is best for me. He was always pushing me to get better."
So, about that promise…
"I told him I would come to a Tennessee game and I would actually wear some orange and white,'' Johnson with a smile. "Yeah, I promised him that, but that's my guy. I told him I would, so I have to keep that promise."
The Titans are pushing the 6-foot-4, 314-pound Johnson these days.
With nose tackle Al Woods sidelined with an calf injury, Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Johnson's going to need to step up. Johnson, a second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been inactive the last three games after playing in the season opener against Minnesota.
Defensive lineman Angelo Blackson is also scheduled to get more snaps at nose tackle. Woods is expected to be out several weeks.
"Blackson should move over there, and we're going to need to get Austin Johnson up and crank him up and he needs to play at a high level,'' Mularkey said. "I'd like just a little more nastiness in (Austin's) play, a little more violence in his play, and I think he'll be fine."
Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said he's seen Johnson's potential.
"It's a mindset, and I do think he has it in him,'' Casey said of Johnson. "He shows it. He does a great job to me."
Johnson was a force at Penn State. He recorded 6.5 sacks in 2015, and he racked up 154 tackles in 38 games played over three seasons.
Now he's ready to make an impact with the Titans. Johnson played in just 10 snaps in the season opener against the Vikings.
"It is up to the coaches to see how many plays I get, but am just here to help the team any way I can," Johnson said. "I am definitely progressing, and learning more and more by watching all the other guys … and staying on top of things.
"I just have to keep getting better."
The Titans select Penn State DT Austin Johnson in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft. (AP Photos)