Entering his third season in the NFL, expectations for wide receiver Steve Johnson are very high. The former University of Kentucky star was selected to the All-SEC first-team in 2007, after gaining 1,041 yards and 13 touchdowns that season for the Wildcats. He was chosen the Most Improved Offensive Player by the Kentucky coaching staff, and as a result of his efforts, was selected with the 224th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
So far in his young pro career, Johnson has appeared in only 16 games, hauling in 12 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns for offensive coordinators Turk Schonert and Alex Van Pelt. With head coach Chan Gailey and offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins assuming control in 2010, all healthy players have seen considerable repetitions in offseason workouts to aid in mastering the nuances of the new offensive scheme.
For Johnson, the prospect of learning a new offense is part of the job description, but still requires the same proper execution on the gridiron that players have been taught from day one.
"I feel good about (the offense). I think it's a dynamic offense, so all of the receivers should be able to work moves and get open," he said. "We still have to go make our plays, so we can't really worry about who is coaching."
With a talented young receiving corps, including James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish, and Johnson, all looking to complement veteran Lee Evans, the competition is under way to see who will fit which role once the season begins. The opportunity to earn a starting spot is what is driving Johnson to perform at his highest level.
"That's all we ask for as players, is competition. It's not about getting one-up on the other guy, something personal like that, it's competition to make the team better," he said. "If I am going to be starting ahead of somebody, I am going to be pushing that guy in the back to work, and vice-versa with that guy. Competition (for positions) is good for the team."
While the veterans returning to the club this season will be under a new organizational direction, Johnson said many Bills players felt they had something to prove on the field regardless of the change in administration.
"Whether you had 1,000 yards, or if you had 10 yards, you always feel you can improve for the next year," he said. "That's basically the mindset for all of us, to improve from last year."
The wide receivers have alternated in rep patterns during offseason work, with each of the 10 players under contract at the position getting an opportunity to line up in various situations and formations to showcase individual talents. Johnson said his plan has been to use his versatility and consistency to present his abilities to the coaching staff.
"That I can play any position, X, Z, Y, F. That's all I want to show, that I can be an asset anywhere on the field," he said. "Every day at practice, by not making too many mental errors, showing that we are having fun, and competing with one other; I think that will do a good job for me as far as winning a position."
While Gailey has said that starters will not be named until a future date, Johnson said he is pleased with how the offense has grown as a unit thus far in the learning process.
"It's been new offenses the past three years that I have been here, so to see the team come together like this on the field is great," Johnson said. "We are not exactly where we want to be, but we know the direction we are going. It's looking pretty good."
Other players on the offensive side of the ball have taken notice of the wide receiver's efforts thus far, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who named Johnson as one of the players who had a sharp offseason and will contribute significantly this season. Feeding off the positive outlook shared by his teammates, Johnson said he wants to bring as much excitement as he can to the team, and to Bills fans, in 2010.
"I want to get the crowd on their feet, make the fans happy," he said. "Making plays, of course, that's what we all want to do. That's the basic answer. I want to bring electricity into Ralph Wilson Stadium."