CORAL GABLES -- Maybe success came too quickly for him as a freshman. Or maybe, he just lost his focus after injuries slowed him down and others passed him on the depth chart.
The 6-4, 205-pound receiver, who led UM in receiving as a freshman in 2008 (31 catches, 332 yards and 3 TDs) before putting together two lackluster seasons in a row (31 catches, 433 yards, 1 TD in 2009 and 2010 combined), won't need Al Golden or receivers coach George McDonald to motivate him his senior season.
The future of his children -- 3-year old son Aldarius Jr. and 2-year old daughter Aldaria -- has given him a new perspective, and plenty of motivation to make a new name for himself in 2011.
"I sat back this summer thinking 'Do I want to let my kids down?'," Johnson said Monday before UM's third practice of the fall.
"I come out [to practice] and that's all I think about. How am I going to [help] my kids live better when they get older? They help me through the day when I'm hurting, tired, frustrated. So, I just come out and do what I got to do. It ain't for me. It's for my team, my family and most of all my kids."
If Johnson wants a future in professional football, he's going to have to turn things around quickly. Wednesday, Johnson admitted that over the last two seasons he took plays off and didn't show the type of burst he needed to when the ball was snapped to keep defenses from knowing when the offense was going to run or pass the ball. Asked why he took plays off, Johnson couldn't really explain himself.
"I was really more concerned about this and that when I should be concerned about what I'm here for and what I came to do," Johnson said. "I thought this was cake. But it hit me, there ain't nothing easy in life. I have to wake up and get focused on what I came here to do."
Putting himself back in a position to make an impact at UM won't be easy. Not only are Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd ahead of Johnson on the depth chart, sophomore Allen Hurns and freshman Phillip Dorsett have been making plenty of waves. Johnson also has former Miami Northwestern teammate Tommy Streeter to contend with.
Johnson said he started putting in extra work toward beating his competition, heading to the beach on Monday and Wednesday mornings (before team workouts and 7-on-7 work) to practice running his routes in the sand "so I can come off my breaks hard and come off my routes hard." To keep his mind focused, he would bring his mom along too.
"I just heard Andre Johnson and the guys talking [during a workout this summer] saying how they were going to go to the beach and work out," Johnson said. "So I just grabbed my mom and went to the beach. She sat right there through my workouts. That was really great."
McDonald said Wednesday that in his eyes there are three receivers on the team he believes who can be "go-to-guys." Asked who they were, McDonald didn't provide any hints. But at least he appears to be willing to give Johnson a chance.
“Obviously, early in his career he had a lot of catches," McDonald said. "We’re just focused on getting him back to that solid play where he’s making contributions to the team and being a reliable receiver for us."
MORE PRACTICE NOTES...
> Safety Ray Ray Armstrong says coaches have said, "You have to be tough in order to play on this defense." How tough? Well, you better not make it on the "soft tape."
The soft tape is a video of highlights -- or lowlights -- of players shying away from contact or not jumping in on a tackle.
"I don't think anybody wants to be put on a soft tape," Armstrong said. "It's like a highlight tape of people if you're shying away from contact or you're not coming in there to fit in, get in on a tackle."
Asked if he'd every been put on the "soft tape," Johnson gave a reporter what could best be described as a funny look.
> UM coach Al Golden said the reason he moved junior Jeremy Lewis (19th-best rated defensive tackle in the country in 2008 according to Rivals) to offensive guard is because his "best chance to play right now is at guard."
"We have depth issues there that are more glaring than what we have at tackle," Golden said. "Clearly Darius [Smith] and Olsen [Pierre] have fortified our depth there, and [Marcus] Forston being back before we thought he would has helped that situation."
> While UM coaches are happy Smith, nicknamed "The Plug" by teammates, dropped from 361 to 343 pounds, he is still currently practicing with the third team. He said he's lined up behind Micanor Regis (1st team) and Porter (2nd team). At the other defensive tackle spot, it's Marcus Forston, followed by Pierre, and Luther Robinson.
Smith, who played at as heavy as 375 pounds at Lackawanna Junior College, said UM coaches still want him to drop more weight. "I have to learn a lot from them, learn the plays, learn the system before I get my name in the mix, a starting role," Smith said.
> Marcus Robinson said "it's hard to tell" whether he's a linebacker or defensive end these days. Perhaps it's best to simply to refer to him as a hybrid pass rusher in both UM's 3-4 and 4-3 defense. When he lines up at linebacker, Robinson said, he's on the strong side.
"I love the new role, showing my versatility," Robinson said. "I understand the package I'm in right now - they keep it real basic for me. [But] there's a lot more studying than just knowing one position. I have to learn both end and linebacker, so it's a little tough right now."
> Golden said sophomore Brandon Linder is working at multiple positions, but is currently working in at center. "I'm not so sure he couldn't play right tackle for us, either," Golden said. "He's a bright, rugged kid. He's what we're looking for in the o-line. We need versatility right now. Although we're experienced on o-line. We don't have the layers we should have."
> Golden said he would like to have his two-deep set with at least 10 days to go in camp so that the top two players at each position could compete for the starting job over the final scrimmage and practices.