Wide receiver Stevie Johnson laid out, stretched his arms above his head and lunged forward at the last second.
The play was punctuated by a passionate spike from Johnson as his quarterback, Philip Rivers, immediately began whooping and hollering, high-fiving every member of the offense as he trotted down the field to celebrate in the end zone.
Yes, it was practice. It didn’t count. It’s training camp, for crying out loud. But the moment was significant, as Rivers and his newly acquired wide receiver continue to form a connection on and off the field.
Through less than a week, it’s safe to say it’s going well.
“Phil is great,” Johnson said after Monday’s practice. “We link together as brothers and it’s only been what, five days? We’re on a good path right now. He just makes everything easier. It’s obvious he’s one of the best. Even when we make a mistake, he can clean it up with his touch, his savvy.”
Johnson and Rivers have significantly different personalities — Johnson uses words like ‘wavy’ while Rivers uses words like ‘golly’ — but the receiver has long been vocal about his admiration for Rivers. When he was first signed by San Diego, he said he had been a fan of #17 for a long time, even going so far as to watch YouTube videos of him and picture himself as a weapon in his offense.
Now that the time has come, it isn’t a disappointment.
“Me, I’m just the new guy,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to fit in with all the stars here. I’ve got to elevate my game every day to let you know I’m here, I’m here to ball with you guys. And then the battles, going against our cornerbacks, it makes us that much better. We gotta fight for everything we get. That’s what it’s about. They’re going to make us better, we’re going to make them better.”
So far, Johnson is doing everything he can to make himself better, even if it means staying on the field for extra work long after the last whistle blows – something he didn’t do early on in his career.
“At first I didn’t, because I was a young boy playing football,” Johnson said. “But after being around, watching some veterans, watching Lee Evans, watching Anquan [Boldin] last year … I mean, why not? This is our only hustle, so why not go all in?”
Johnson had three consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons in Buffalo (2010-2012) but in 2014, after being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, posted his lowest numbers since his sophomore season: 35 catches for 435 yards. Those numbers could be long forgotten with Rivers at the helm (and not Colin Kaepernick), though Johnson’s success will also largely depend on his ability to stay healthy.
General manager Tom Telesco has praised Johnson’s versatility – he can play in the slot or outside – as well as his ability to separate from tight coverage.
“He’s got height, excellent hands,” Telesco said in the offseason.
“We should be showtime,” he said. “We know it’s a lot of work, but there ain’t no excuses.”