After earning rave reviews while playing wide receiver for the Oklahoma Sooners, Johnson made the NFL, but spent most of the last two years on the Cowboys’ practice squad.
But thanks to season-ending injuries to rookie Dez Bryant and second-year wideout Kevin Ogletree, Johnson now finds himself where he has hoped to be all along: on the team’s 53-man active roster. The Cowboys, who face the Washington Redskins at noon Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, signed Johnson from the practice squad Wednesday when Ogletree was put on the injured reserve list.
But Johnson said that he got through his frustration by realizing that he had a part in his teammates making plays while he watched and waited his turn.
“Yeah, it has been frustrating sometimes,” he said. “You go to games, and you watch your teammates playing, and you want to be out there with them.
“But I realized that when they make a good play, I make a good play. When I was on the practice squad, my job was to push the other receivers, so I like to think I helped make them better. Even the defensive guys — it was my job to give them the best look I could every day in practice when I was on the scout team to help them get ready for each opponent. I told Alan Ball when he got his last interception that I want half the credit. That’s not happening, but we joke around about that all the time.”
Johnson admitted that he does not yet know what his role will be Sunday when the Cowboys face their long-time rivals.
“I’m sure I’ll play a lot of special teams,” Johnson said. “Ogletree is a big special teamer, so I expect to contribute on special teams, too. If they call on me on offense, too, I’m going to be ready.
“Of course I want to have eight catches for 100 yards or something, but it doesn’t always work out the way you want. But whatever they want me to do, I’ll be ready.”
Rookie cornerback Bryan McCann, who also earned a spot on the active roster after starting the season on the practice squad, said Johnson is ready and will perform well.
“‘Pacquiao’ can ball — I’m happy for him,” McCann said. “Have you noticed that almost everyone who started the season on the practice squad — me, Manny, (running back) Lonyae (Miller), (tight end) Martin Rucker … we did what they asked us to do.
“Tuesday is our off day, but if you’re on the practice squad, you’re in here running and working out. So we were all in here, grinding. (Wide receiver) Jesse Holley started calling us the ‘Alley Dogs,’ and (quarterback) Stephen McGee had T-shirts made up for us. When one of us made a play in practice, the rest of us were pulling for that guy, and talked about the ‘Alley Dogs’ making a play. It’s hard work on the practice squad, but it paid off. Now it’s Manny’s turn.”
The 5-foot-11-inch Johnson said that the violent nature of the sport also helped him pass the time while waiting for his chance to earn his spot on the team’s active roster.
“Football is a rough game,” he said. “In this sport, anybody can go down at any time. You never want to see somebody get hurt, but it’s a very physical game. You have to stay ready all the time.”