By Ted Fleming
Charles Johnson, DE #95
Hometown: Hawkinsville, GA
College: University of Georgia
Experience: 6 years
He comes from a small city named Hawkinsville which is just about 25 miles off Interstate 75 in the central part of Georgia. It is roughly four and a half square miles in size with a 2011 reported population of 4,995 and the Hawkinsville website boasts that it is the harness racing capital of the state including a horse pulling a jog cart.
Charles Johnson did not follow a dream of being a harness driver or trainer because he had bigger fish to fry, like sacking quarterbacks. He had many accolades in high school, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Class A Defensive Player of the Year before moving on to college.
Johnson stayed in his home state going to the University of Georgia where he majored in Child and Family Development, but it was on the gridiron where he made his mark and caught the eye of pro scouts who many thought he would be a late first or early second round pick at defensive end.
Johnson started all 13 games in his final season in Athens garnering Second-Team All-SEC by the AP in 2006. That year he had 19 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, a team-best 10 pass breakups and 27 QB-pressures but in the 2007 NFL Draft the now 26-year old fell to the third round and at the time was a bargain basement pick at #83.
The former Bulldog was inactive the first 13 games of his rookie campaign, but over the final three he started two of them and became a starter in 2008. Over the next two seasons he would record 10 sacks before having a breakout year in 2010 with 51 solo tackles and 11.5 sacks that would earn him a mega-deal worth $72 million over six years with $32 million in guarantees and a $30 million signing bonus.
That offseason it was rumored that the Falcons were chasing Johnson to bring him back to Georgia, only the Panthers blew that up with the size of the contract and it was kind of a birthday present because it was officially signed 20 days after his July 10 birthday.
Over the course of his NFL career, Johnson has played in 67 games with 169 tackles – 129 solo – and 34 sacks. He is well on his way to reaching some lofty numbers following a record setting afternoon in a Panthers loss to the Falcons last Sunday. His 3.5 sacks is a new franchise standard which was part of another team mark of seven sacks of Matt Ryan on the day.
Johnson was just inches from interfering with Ryan’s desperate heave with under a minute to go in regulation that turned into a 59-year completion, which set up a Matt Bryant game winning field goal. Once the Atlanta quarterback released the ball Johnson said he didn’t see anything but heard the crowd cheering the miraculous completion.
Over the last half-dozen years, the Panthers’ defense has been much maligned, but Johnson has been a rock in the middle of all the turmoil. He doesn’t have the catchy nickname of another Panthers’ defensive end, Julius Peppers – aka The Freak of Nature – who had 81 sacks in his superb eight-year career in Carolina, but by the time he pulls off his jersey for the last time he might have a whole bunch of team records.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.