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John Johnson III: 'I'm pumped just for the opportunity'

IRVINE, Calif. – This past Sunday, defensive back John Johnson III was visiting with familiar faces amongst the coaches and staff.

On Tuesday, a nostalgic Johnson was back in the horns with several new names to learn, and gratitude for a second stint in Los Angeles.

"It's a lot of new faces, too," Johnson said after Tuesday's training camp practice. "But seeing the familiar faces brought back a lot of memories, just playing football, the highs (and) the lows. Just seeing the training staff, you know, I got hurt, I've spent a lot of time with them. So yeah, it's just fun to be here. I was 21 years old (when I initially joined the team), now I'm 27, so it's like nostalgia. It feels good."

There was a lot that was comforting for Johnson during Tuesday's practice.

There was the jersey number – his recognizable 43.

There was the head coach – Sean McVay was there from the beginning.

There were the fans who wanted his autograph afterward.

And there was also the defensive system, which, while coordinated by Raheem Morris, still bears resemblance and similarity to the one he played in back in 2020.

Johnson said he learned "a lot" during his first four seasons with the Rams.

"This place is very different, it's unique, it's a great place to be," Johnson said. "Just people from top to bottom, it's just where you want to be. About myself, I learned what type of player I was, what type of systems that I like, that fit me the best, what type of coaching that I need. I think this is the right place to be."

The environment has changed somewhat, not only in terms of the coaching staff but also the roster.

As alluded to before, almost half of the roster turned over this offseason, headlined by 36 rookies on the 90-man roster. Meanwhile, only two starters from the 2020 Los Angeles defense Johnson was a part of that allowed the fewest total yards and points that season are on the current 2023 roster – defensive tackle Aaron Donald and defensive back Jordan Fuller. Johnson also said the terminology is "a little bit different."

So, as much as patience will be required with his young teammates as he gets to know them, he said he will also have to be patient with himself during this time.

"But patience is easy to have in a place like this," Johnson said.

The Rams are likewise willing to be, given how well Johnson knows their culture and his background as a foundational piece to the beginning of the McVay era in 2017.

"To be able to get a guy that's familiar with the culture has played a lot of really good football, he's going to come in, and he's going to continue to compete and earn everything just like everybody else," McVay said Tuesday. "But we felt like it was a chance to be able to upgrade our secondary, upgrade the depth of our safety room."

Departing as a free agent in the spring of 2021, Johnson was with the Browns when the Rams won Super Bowl LVI – or, "the final award," as he called it while gesturing with his ring finger. Johnson felt like he put "some good stuff on tape" during two seasons in Cleveland, but admitted he didn't meet his own expectations nor the organization's, but he said it puts a chip on his shoulder to prove he can still play at a high level.

Perhaps the environment that brings that nostalgic joy will be the one to foster that.

"It's awesome," Johnson said. "I'm pumped just for the opportunity. It's really blessing, and I don't take it for granted. I'm going to go out there and compete to the highest level that I can and have fun with it."

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