FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Trumaine Johnson returned to practice Thursday after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury. Now the Jets hope he can return to being one of the NFL’s top playmaking cornerbacks.
Adam Gase remembers not wanting to throw the ball to Johnson’s side when he played for the Rams. Gregg Williams was the Rams’ defensive coordinator when Johnson played his best football. They’re reunited now, and there is confidence that Johnson and the Jets will benefit from that.
“He was one of the better corners in the league,” Gase said Thursday. “We get close to that, that’s going to be a positive for us. It’s going to be about getting him healthy and back into his rhythm. I feel like he’s confident in Gregg’s defense and Gregg knows how to use him right.”
Johnson is trending toward playing in Sunday’s season opener against the Bills.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “I’m so excited for Sunday.”
The Jets have revamped and strengthened numerous areas of their team, most notably running back and the offensive line. They added impact players on defense in middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and lineman Quinnen Williams, but many would argue that cornerback is their weakest position.
A healthy, hungry and productive Johnson would be a big boost for the defensive backfield and go a long way toward helping the overall success of the defense.
“He’s very critical,” Mosley said. “A 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 corner who can run, that’s always a crucial thing. He’s a great tackler too with ball skills. Just having that vet back on the island is always a comfortable feeling.”
Johnson had career bests of seven interceptions — one for a TD — and 71 tackles under Williams in 2015. He signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract with the Jets last year but didn’t live up to expectations.
He had four interceptions, including one he returned for a TD, in 10 games. But he was beaten for big plays several times, missed five games with a quadriceps injury and was benched for the final game of the season for tardiness.
Johnson has a clean slate with Gase and Williams and now is the leader of a cornerback group that many teams probably will try to pick on this season.
Darryl Roberts, who started when Johnson was out last year, moves into the No. 2 corner role full-time for the first time in his career. He still has to prove himself. The Jets signed former Falcon Brian Poole to be their nickel corner.
The Jets gave a number of players a shot in camp, including undrafted rookie free agent Kyron Brown and former Canadian Football League player Tevaughn Campbell. They played some first-team snaps while Johnson was out. Both were cut, but former Saint and Colt Arthur Maulet made the team.
Last week, the Jets claimed Bennett Jackson, who can play safety and corner, a few days after acquiring Nate Hairston.
Gase said the Jets were trying to be smart with Johnson in camp and took a cautious approach. Hamstrings are tricky to begin with, and the Jets don’t want anything to linger. But Johnson expects to be ready to go with no issues, saying he feels 100 percent healthy.
“I’m a vet,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. I’ve been through injuries. The main thing is staying in it mentally in classroom. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
The Bills and quarterback Josh Allen likely will test Johnson and the Jets’ secondary. He’ll try to contain John Brown, a former teammate with the Rams.
“Any time you play the type of receivers that have extreme speed, you have to do a good job of staying on top of these guys,” Gase said. “You can’t let them get behind you. That’s a big emphasis for us, balls over our head, because those are game-changing plays, especially with how Josh can hold on to the ball and he can throw it the whole distance. We got to do a good job. It’s got to be a full defensive effort.”