At a random mini-camp three years ago, I remember distinctly standing along the sidelines and coming away with a big impression of a young player. The then rookie wide receiver and seventh round pick Stevie Johnson showed he had a lot of game back then, and could help the Bills down the line.
With his first real opportunity to shine in his third NFL season, Johnson did just that.
The wideout capitalized on a connection with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and over the course of 16 games became arguably the Bills' most marketable player on the roster. The stats are there: 16 games, 82 catches, 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Mix that in with a few touchdown celebrations that made some people laugh, pouring out his emotions after costing the Bills a game and an impromptu rap session on the Jim Rome Show, suddenly Stevie Johnson became an overnight sensation in the NFL.
But to the fourth-year wide receiver, it's not just about looking back on the past. He wants to prove himself once again.
“It’s attention. I’ve got some more attention now," said Johnson. "I don’t come in saying, ‘Oh I did this last year.’ That’s last year and last year wasn’t even that great when I look back on it. It could’ve been better so I come in now and that’s number 13, that’s Steve Johnson. But I have to do better than last year or something close to it to keep that level of attention. I don’t come in thinking I did this and did that and I’m good. That’s only one season. I’ve got to be better.”
To help him get to that level, Johnson is entering his post-breakout season with lofty expectations for himself.
"I want to be one of those receivers that you hear about," asserted the 2010 Bills' leading pass catcher. "The Steve Smith's and Fitzgerald. I want to be like those guys where I have consistent 1,000-yard seasons and multiple touchdowns. I don’t want to get it twisted and sound like an arrogant guy, but that’s the next step for me. I want to be in that next category of receivers like Lee [Evans] is.”
With an added amount of focus on him this year, it's only going to get harder to make that kind of impact. He knows that, and said he'll approach each and every game the same way.
"I already feel like I’m disrespected when I’m on the field so that’s the mentality I take," remarked Johnson. "I feel like I’m going to go out there and go hard anyway just for that reason.”
He and the Bills will report to training camp on Friday, July 29 at St. John Fisher College.