ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Alexander Johnson Experiment had reached its conclusion.
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett was going to miss three weeks after aggravating a hip injury and the Broncos, who suddenly had hope after surprising the Chargers and Steelers in back-to-back games, needed a backup pass rusher.
So on Friday, November 30 of last year, the Broncos waived Johnson, an inside linebacker, and called up edge rusher Jeff Holland from the practice squad.
After signing Johnson 3 ½ years after he had played his last college football game at Tennessee, the Broncos tried to stash the true “Mike” linebacker on their 53-man roster all season. He only dressed for one game, and only played on special teams at that.
But the team was rallying for a possible playoff bid, there was a need at another position and Johnson became expendable.
Three days after he was cut and a day after the Broncos had defeated the Bengals for their third consecutive victory, Johnson was on his way to Miami. The Dolphins were signing him to their practice squad.
“It was crazy,’’ Johnson said. “I was getting ready to fly out to Miami but it was still the practice squad. And they (the Broncos) called me back and I was like, all right, ‘I’ll stay.’ It worked out well.”
Finally getting a chance to play in place of the injured Josey Jewell two weeks ago, Johnson has a team-high 17 tackles in the Broncos’ past two games. He also has an interception in the end zone off Philip Rivers and 1.5 sacks.
The Broncos are 2-0 when Johnson is manning the inside. They were 0-4 when he didn’t play a defensive snap to start the season. Johnson and the Broncos will line up against the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs tonight in a potentially pivotal AFC West Division game at Empower Field at Mile High (kickoff at 6:22 p.m.).
“I don’t feel like I’ve ever been rusty but I feel like I can always improve every game,’’ Johnson said. “Obviously, I’m not making 20 tackles like I did in college. I don’t expect to make 20 tackles at this level but … I’m bringing energy and having fun. Plus, bust your tail to the ball, good things happen.”
The gap between college and the Broncos was filled with an extended legal case that concluded with Johnson and a Tennessee teammate getting acquitted on rape chargers by a jury.
The Broncos gave him a second chance but his playing time would have to wait a while longer.
Johnson finished out last season on the Broncos’ practice squad. He signed back to the team’s offseason roster in January, but it still took a while for Vic Fangio’s coaching staff to trust him.
“It was frustrating,’’ Johnson said. “Probably that period after I was cut and went to the practice squad was the toughest. They tell you to stay patient. You’re in the league, you’re there, stay patient. But I’m a guy who wants to play.
“It was a tough year last year because I wasn’t playing. I never had a year when I didn’t play except for 6th grade. I was on a team of seventh and eighth graders. I was bigger and better than all of them. But they didn’t let me play.’’
Maybe the Broncos brought Johnson along a little late. But not too late.
“It was frustrating but it makes you hungry,’’ Johnson said. “You can only really feel right when you get to play and show people. Practice squad, that’s practice. But when you get the opportunity to get in a game and show people, that’s my goal, to show. That simple.’’
SUGGESTED VIDEOS | Sports