When Eddie Royal signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bears early in the offseason, many fans wondered if the Chargers could replace such a productive playmaker. It didn’t take long before General Manager Tom Telesco dipped into the free agent pool and signed the versatile Stevie Johnson to fill the void left by Royal’s departure.
Entering his eighth NFL season, Johnson’s best years were in Buffalo where during a three-year span, 2010-2012, he had 247 receptions for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns. Heading into the opening game versus the Lions, Johnson answered a few questions from MP reporter Art Garcia Jr. following a recent practice.
AG: Tell me how it has been working with Philip Rivers throughout the offseason?
SJ: It’s an opportunity that’s unreal and I have to take advantage of it. With this being my eighth year, I feel like it’s coming to an end because you can’t play forever and to be able to play with a quarterback like 17. It’s an opportunity you can’t pass up on.
AG: How long did it take you to contact each other after the team signed you?
SJ: That day, that day. We started writing messages and texting each other and calling, then the next thing you know OTAs (Organized Team Activities) are starting and I’m running routes and catching passes. It seemed unreal, but it’s a good situation.
AG: I heard you were watching clips of Rivers and the team even before you signed here, true?
SJ: Yeah, You Tube highlights of him … Well I was already watching, but (after signing) then I started watching to see any connection to where I was at with No. 11 (Eddie Royal) and seeing his (Rivers) connection with Eddie — I wanted to start visualizing how I would fit in.
AG: I’m sure you had other teams interested in you, why did you pick San Diego?
SJ: I wanted to be here. I wanted to be here after my first contract (ended), but it didn’t happen. It just so happens I got to play for all of my favorite teams — Buffalo, San Francisco and now hopefully I can finish it up here in San Diego.
AG: What was it specifically about the Chargers that made you sign here?
SJ: Being in California, the quarterback … I would have to say the quarterback with me being a receiver. And in California the weather is great throughout the season, where in Buffalo the weather is great early but later in the year it gets real icy. So being in a place where you are able to throw the ball throughout the year is big for a receiver.
AG: How far along are you and Philip in developing that QB/WR relationship where you just look at each other and instantly know what the other is thinking out on the field?
SJ: We’re still building that. It’s been accelerated because it is unreal how fast he picks up on the tendencies of the receivers. I don’t want to be overconfident and say that we’ve reached that point already — so I would just say we’re building it.
AG: You talk about the opportunity of playing with Philip. What is different about him compared to the other quarterbacks you have played with?
SJ: It’s the freedom — the freedom to control the entire offense. You have a general back there who can see the defense, know what’s coming and deal with the checks to maneuver the players where to go — that’s like having cheat sheet on a test. A lot of quarterbacks that I’ve played with were good and talented, but none of them have the freedom that he has and that’s pretty big.
AG: What qualities do you bring to the Chargers as a seasoned veteran, and do you prefer to play inside at the slot position or would you rather line up on the outside?
SJ: My versatility — like being in the receiver room and with the offense I’m able to line up everywhere and help everybody out, so I just want to keep building on my versatility. It doesn’t matter where I play, inside or outside is fine with me.
AG: Did you set any goals for this season?
SJ: I want to win a championship. We have a guy in Jacoby Jones who has won a championship and I want to be at that level too — to be able to be a champion at the sport we play.
The Endzone: When asked why he signed with the Chargers rather than the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots who were also seeking his services, Johnson said he just couldn’t sign with his one-time rival.
“Honestly, it was like I have been going against the Patriots for so many years, and with them being rivals, I couldn’t sign with them,” Johnsons said. “I’m so engrained in the Buffalo area that it just wouldn’t fit. I guess I’m just too loyal to my soil, you know what I’m saying?”
With tight end Antonio Gates suspended the first four games of the season, look for Johnson to play a major role in the Chargers passing attack. At 6-feet-2-inches, he presents a much larger target for Rivers to throw to than Royal who is 5-feet-10-inches tall. He also said he feels faster on the field now that he’s playing at 197 pounds — his lightest playing weight since his freshman year at Kentucky.