After stops with 10 NFL teams – and a quick jaunt with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the now-defunct United Football League – Josh Johnson is home.
Monday afternoon, the veteran quarterback inked a deal with the Oakland Raiders, marking his return to the town he grew up in, and rose to prominence as a prep star at Oakland Technical High School.
“As a kid, you think and dream some things like this, but the reality of it, sometimes you never really know, especially when you come from Oakland, because you don’t really think these things are attainable,” explained Johnson. “But to actually wear this hat, [being] able to put this helmet on, wear this jersey, it’s going to be an unreal feeling that right now I can’t even tap into.”
After a decade in the NFL, Johnson’s return to The Town will also be a family affair, as he’ll now reunite with his cousin – and current Raiders running back – Marshawn Lynch.
“I’m excited to be back with ‘cuz,’”Johnson said. “We were just talking about it, last time we actually played together was our championship game in the Coliseum, and we won that game, so we ended it all with a bang. We’re about to start it up with another bang together with this, and getting this thing going for this 2018 season, so we all ready. We all excited, and we’re about to do this real Town Bidness out here. Raider Nation, man.”
The 31-year-old quarterback described his signing with the Silver and Black “surreal” and a “blessing,” and as happy as Johnson is to reunite with “The Beast,” Lynch’s face won’t be the only friendly one that Johnson sees as he roams the halls of 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway; he has history with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and Jon Gruden drafted him after he wrapped up his collegiate career at the University of San Diego.
So, nearly a decade after meeting Gruden for the first time, has anything about the Raiders head coach changed?
“He ain’t never changed,” Johnson said of Gruden. “From the times I met him, from ESPN, he’s been a very consistent person. He’s always been an upbeat personality, on the go, and locked in on everything with football. I’m just excited that they got him back up in this building, and I can be here, and be a part of helping building this thing with him, and then doing my part to help this team get to the level it’s supposed to be.”
Johnson continued, “spending one year with him [Gruden] in Tampa, he changed my life, and my perspective as a quarterback, just the things, and how he showed me how you can mentally challenge the game of football, and I know what he brings to the table, and I know for a fact that Derek [Carr] is going to appreciate that a lot, and all the other quarterbacks in the room, because of the way he’s going to challenge you, and bring you to raise your level of play. Once you see the results, it’s like an appetite, and he’s going to keep feeding it. That’s what he does.”
With Derek Carr entrenched as the franchise’s starting quarterback, Johnson will likely vie for the backup role, competing with third-year signal-caller Connor Cook, and regardless who ends up winning that battle, Johnson will still look to coach up both Carr and Cook, providing a veteran voice for the pair of ascending players.
And with almost a decade of NFL experience already under his belt, Johnson is eager to share his knowledge, much of it gleaned from coaches on the Raiders staff.
“Honestly, a lot of those principles [were] installed in me from these same coaches; being able to know how to watch film, being able to know how to prepare,” Johnson said. “A lot of those principles I gained from Coach Gruden, Coach Olson, and remember to this day, he told me to keep a playbook on everybody, and I have a playbook on everybody from a personnel standpoint, and that has allowed me to transition, even when things go wrong, to always come back on the brighter side of things.”
Johnson spent much of 2017 with the Houston Texans, but during a free weekend, he made the trek back to the West Coast to catch a game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. He was blown away by the environment, and now that he’s on the Raiders roster, he can’t wait to experience it as a player.
“I felt that energy, and it was crazy, so now actually being a part of it, and being able to experience it myself, it’s a blessing,” he said. “It is a tremendous blessing.”