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Even if Leonard Fournette led to Alexander Johnson playing, thank you won't be delivered Sunday

Fournette flattened the Denver D for 190 second-half rushing yards when he was with Jaguars last year. He returns to Denver with Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Credit: AP
Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson reacts during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Alexander Johnson should send Leonard Fournette a thank you gift.

He won’t, but he should. For it was Fournette who opened the door for Johnson to start playing as the Broncos’ top inside linebacker.

“I definitely won’t be saying, ‘Thank you,’ to him,’’ Johnson said with a smile during his Zoom media hookup Friday. “I might be saying some other stuff to him. I guess there is somewhat of a thanks, but no thanks.”

Johnson was on the Broncos’ sidelines in Game 4 last year watching Fournette, then the Jacksonville Jaguars running back, trample the Denver defense for 190 rushing yards in the second half, 225 yards for the game.

It was embarrassing. The Jaguars offensive front blew away the Broncos’ front seven. And when the two sides stood toe to toe, Fournette pushed the pile for five, 10, 15 yards a crack.

Fournette was never the same after that game and is now Tom Brady’s running back with the Tampa Bay Bucs, who will visit the Broncos this Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. Johnson went the other direction. After Johnson didn’t play a defensive snap through the Broncos first four games last year, head coach Vic Fangio benched Corey Nelson and inserted Johnson for Game 5 against the Chargers in Los Angeles. Johnson picked off Philip Rivers in the end zone, the Broncos won and his 113 tackles in the 14 games since the Fournette Flattening leads the team (Todd Davis had 119 tackles in the final 12 games last year, but is now a Viking).

And so this time when Fournette gets the handoff, Johnson will be there waiting, along with nose tackle Mike Purcell, who also was inserted into the starting linebacker after the run D debacle against Jacksonville.

“Definitely going to go out there and have some fun, but the biggest thing is to just stop him,’’ Johnson said. “We know he’s a good back and we have to shut him down and try to make him one dimensional so that they have to throw it.’’

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