Three years ago, wide receiver
This weekend, one of his college roommates through his time at Georgia Tech – quarterback Taylor Bennett – is on the same field for Lions’ coaches.
“Taylor, he was my roommate for three years,” said Johnson. “All four of us in our room were real tight, but Taylor’s room was right next to mine, so we probably had the most interaction out of everybody. We did just about everything together.”
Johnson sent Bennett a message of good luck prior to his weekend tryout.
“It’s kind of ironic that I’m here,” said Bennett. “I came up for four days during training camp and stayed at his house. Came out and watched all of this, so I’ve seen all this before. It was kind of neat to come back and see it all again.”
Bennett has had a unique journey leading up to this weekend in Allen Park.
He spent four years at Georgia Tech, getting his first game action as a redshirt freshman in 2005 against Connecticut when starter Reggie Ball was out with an illness.
Fittingly enough, Bennett came in and connected with Johnson for a 42-yard touchdown, marking his first-ever collegiate pass.
“He deserves more credit for it than I do,” said Bennett with a smile. “It was just a 15-yard curl route and he took it and went right up the seam and scored it. I was in shock, it was my first pass – I didn’t know what to do.
“I just walked to the sidelines and everybody was going crazy.”
When told that Bennett gives him all the credit for the touchdowns they connected on, Johnson said with a laugh, “Yeah, I should definitely get most of the credit for his stats.”
Bennett and Johnson would reach the endzone two more times before Johnson left for the NFL.
Both touchdowns came in the Toyota Gator Bowl after the 2006 season. Ball was again unable to play, giving Bennett his second-career start.
He completed his first eight passes and found Johnson for 31- and 48-yard touchdowns in Georgia Tech’s 38-35 loss to West Virginia.
“It’s hard really to describe to people what it’s like to throw to him,” said Bennett of his roommate. “Even here watching game film from last year, you see how defenses start to cater to him. When we had him at Tech, it was just an absolute blessing to have a guy like that.
“It makes it so easy to design a successful scheme.”
Bennett took over as the starting quarterback at Georgia Tech in 2007, graduating at the end of that year with a degree in International Affairs in Russian and Spanish.
After a coaching staff change the following year, he transferred to Louisiana Tech, playing there for his final year of college eligibility.
From there, he moved on to Stockholm, Sweden to play for the European Football League. His team won its National Championship in 2009, moving on to the Eurobowl this year. Bennett actually left his team in Europe to attend this camp with Detroit.
“He’s been around,” said Johnson. “He really wants to play. He really has a drive and a passion for the game. He loves what he does. If he gets a fair shot, I believe he’ll make the most of it.”
Bennett ended up at this Rookie Orientation after throwing at Georgia and Florida State on their respective pro days.
“A couple of the scouts were there,” he said. “I threw really good and they decided that it was good enough to give me a shot up here at this. So I figured I’d count my blessings, take it and make the best of it.”
This weekend, Bennett has had the opportunity to work with Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, a coach who’s career he has followed.
“I’ve been a big fan of his, because I’m from St. Louis originally,” said Bennett.
Bennett knows two coaches who worked closely with Linehan - Doug Nussmeier and Derek Dooley – who both spoke highly of their time with the Lions’ offensive coordinator.
“It’s kind of like shock and awe being here next to Coach Linehan and being able to learn from him,” said Bennett. “He has a very interesting way of teaching. He’s very calm when he talks to us, so it resonates well with me like that. I enjoy learning from him.”
Linehan says Bennett “thinks like a quarterback” and has made few mental mistakes over the course of the weekend.
“He has a nice throwing motion and he has a very good mental approach to the game,” said Linehan. “He’s been in a system that allowed him to translate to the NFL system – I like that about him. He’s got nice size and good arm strength.
“I think he needs to stick with this whether it works out this go-around or the next go-around, I think he’s got a chance to really develop.”
Bennett would love a shot in Detroit, but he is taking things one step at a time. He just found out he has been accepted into law school and will have to decide whether he will attend in the fall.
But he says football is the priority. He is hoping he will be invited to participate in Detroit’s OTAs and the team’s offseason program, getting another chance to practice with his friend and former roommate.
“I’ll take this as far as it will go,” he said. “I’ll just have to play it by ear.”