John Johnson Shines in First NFL Start

It was a very productive day on Sunday for Rams' rookie John Johnson III.

Not only did he make his first NFL start at safety in place of Maurice Alexander — who had started Los Angeles' previous four games — but he also nabbed his first career interception and nearly scored a touchdown in the team's 16-10 loss to Seattle.

"I think when you look at what John did yesterday," head coach Sean McVay said on Monday, "[there were] definitely a lot of encouraging things and you see why he's projected to be a really good player for us."

The former Boston College standout has been a solid rotational player for the Rams since the beginning of the regular season, but stepped in for the first time as a starter in Week 5.  

Although Johnson said he had "no idea," that he would be starting on Sunday, he did say that he "felt real comfortable" out on field. 

"I believe the whole team and the coaching staff have a whole lot of trust in me," Johnson said postgame. "I have got to come in and play and I have got to prepare like a starter. I felt really good out there."

Johnson broke up a deep ball to wide receiver Doug Baldwin early in the game, and made a key takeaway to put the Rams in position to score in the second quarter.

On 1st-and-10 from the Los Angeles' 15, Johnson undercut tight end Luke Wilson's route and intercepted a pass from quarterback Russell Wilson. The safety took it back 69 yards to the Seattle 19-yard line, before Wilson caught up to him and made the tackle. The turnover set up a Greg Zuerlein field goal.

Overall, the former third-round draft pick looked impressive in his first career start and recorded one of the top performances by a rookie in Week 5. His 69-yard pick was the longest for an NFL rookie since Kansas City's Marcus Peters had a 90-yard interception in 2015.

"I thought he did a tremendous job," middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said of Johnson. "I told him before the game it was going to be his game to come out and let people know who he was. I'm definitely proud of him. He's got to continue to work and get better and I think he will do that." 

With Johnson excelling, the Rams announced on Monday that they waived Alexander to make room for wide receiver Mike Thomas on the team's 53-man roster. Though Alexander had started Los Angeles' first four games, he was inactive for Sunday's contest. McVay said the established depth at the safety position dictated the decision.

"There were some things where we expected a better level of play from him," McVay said. "He knew that and those things were communicated. And when some of these other guys got their opportunities — you look at John Johnson, you look at the way that Cody Davis played yesterday, Blake Countess is a versatile player, and then expecting to be able to get Lamarcus [Joyner] back — it definitely helps."

With Alexander off the roster, McVay said there will be an opportunity for Johnson to continue on as a starter alongside Joyner — who is expected to return from a hamstring injury in Week 6.

And while Johnson has typically been used as a free safety, McVay said the rookie has the ability to play as "both free and underneath."

"John did a nice job specifically as a post player yesterday," he said, "but you look at the interception he made, he's an underneath flat player. And so, I think with those safeties they are interchangeable in terms of being able to play deep and then underneath in some of those run-support structures."

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