Keelan Johnson's 2012 statistical numbers are a true testament to the dramatic turnaround the local Mesa High School player has achieved last year.
In his first three seasons at Arizona State, the 6-1 207-pound safety collected 81 total tackles and as a senior he posted 88 stops, good for second on the team. He nearly tripled his pass deflections from three to eight over the same time span and almost doubled his number of interceptions from three to a 2012 team leading five picks.
"Finishing my ASU career the way I did shows that I'm capable of playing the position," Johnson said. "It also shows scouts what I can do on the field and they told me that when they watch my film they saw how much better I did get as the season went on. So my improvement throughout the season is something that really stands out to me as well as to the scouts.
"I do wish I had those first three years back and have made a bigger impact a lot sooner than I did. But, it was great to finish my career at Arizona State the way I did."
Working out in Westlake, Calif., at the Elite Performance Factory, the mornings are devoted to speed training conducted by former 100m gold medalist and world record holder, Maurice Greene. The afternoons consist of weight training sessions.
"We had some tough workouts with Coach Griz at ASU and that has helped me here," Johnson stated. "But here the workouts are more complex and more speed oriented. But there is definitely a connection between what I did at ASU to here and it has made some things easier to me than they probably should be.
"I didn't know what my 40-time was coming in here and one of the first things I did when I got here was run the 40 and it wasn't very good. It was a lot slower than what I thought it would be and I don't even want to say the number (laughs). But I was able to knock it down quite a bit and now I run a 4.46. I still feel I can get it down more. The thing they care about the most in the combine is the 40-time and that is what I have to keep on improving."
Johnson feels that his marks in the cone and shuttle drills are excellent and is less concerned of that aspect of the combine workouts. His overall strength is an area that he has noticed progress over the last several weeks.
"Because I had a shoulder issue at ASU I didn't do a lot of lifting," Johnson explained. "But at the combine you have to lift and you can't have any excuses. I can do 12 reps and I think by the time I get to the combine I could do 15."
Free safety is the position where Johnson excelled at as a Sun Devil and the feedback he is receiving thus far does suggest that this would also be the preferable role for him in the NFL.
Johnson attributes much of his success in 2012 to having a fresh start with a new coaching staff and the implementation of the culture change that was aimed at turning the program around.
"I knew that I had to buy in," Johnson described, "and as a senior I had to be a leader to all the younger players. My knowledge for the game grew a lot and didn't only help me succeed but also helped me point out stuff to my teammates. It was a lot different than it was my junior year.
"When Coach Graham first got here he started pulling out players that didn't fit the scheme or didn't follow the rules and that eliminated some of the distractions we had. He let everyone know that he was the general calling the shots. As a player you never got away with stuff, making excuses…that's how we improved from 6-7 to 8-5."
Johnson is fully aware that game film and physical attributes can only show so much of his talent prior to the NFL combine, which is why he is excited to showcase the full range of his skills in the Indianapolis event over the next few days.
"People look at me and see a lot of size," Johnson commented, "but don't think I'm quick compared to a corner. But when I will do my cone drills people will see how quick I can go in and out of my breaks, drop my hips and do those types of things. When they see my numbers they will know that it wasn't too far off from a corner's.
"That's something that should open a lot eyes."
Johnson is leaving for the combine today, and will be going through his drills on Tuesday the 26th. The safety said that he had heard mid-round projections concerning his draft selection prospects and naturally is cognizant of the fact that a solid showing could very well turn that prediction into reality.
"I would be a little disappointed if I didn't get drafted," Johnson admitted. "But the biggest thing is just getting an opportunity to make an impact even as a free agent. If you do well in camp you will make the team."