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Jan 22, 2006
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Jun 26, 2006, 5:33:14 AM by Bob Gretz

Brian Waters, Kimble Anders, Deron Cherry and Tony Richardson all share one distinction: the first year they turned up on the roster of the Kansas City Chiefs, they were unknowns. They all went on to appear in the Pro Bowl. The Chiefs will have 90-plus players on their roster heading to training camp a month from now in Wisconsin. Some of those names are familiar to all fans. Others are unknown. All have a story. This week we look at some of the unfamiliar faces attempting to win a spot for the regular season opener against Cincinnati.

His dad was a starting center at Tennessee. So were both of his uncles, including one that went on to play in the NFL and earned Pro Bowl recognition.

But Paul Johnson wanted his son Adam to be something other than an offensive lineman and the guy who snaps the ball. Adam Johnson was raised as a quarterback, and played that position in high school, junior college and college.

So what the heck is Johnson doing on the Chiefs roster trying to create an NFL career as a deep snapper?

“My Dad wanted to make sure that I had a chance to get on the traveling squad my freshman year in high school, so he taught me how to snap,” Adam Johnson said. “By the time I got to play quarterback as a junior, nobody else could snap. So I did both.”

Quarterback and deep snapper – that’s a combination not often heard found on any level of football. The Chiefs had a Hall of Fame linebacker in Bobby Bell who also was the team’s snapper for placements and punts. But Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson was the holder, not the guy getting his head pounded in the middle of the blocking formation.

“I will always thanks my Dad for that,” Johnson said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”

In this case, he wouldn’t be taking his second shot at making an NFL roster. He spent the last two training camps trying to make the Carolina Panthers roster. This year, he’ll try to make a place with the Chiefs.

But the story starts well before his time in the NFL. The Johnson brothers were out of Cleveland, Ohio and they had a stranglehold on the center position at the University of Tennessee for nearly a decade. First was Bob Johnson (started in 1965-66-67) who was second player selected in the 1968 NFL Draft. Taken by the expansion Cincinnati Bengals, where he became an immediate starter and went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He started for 10 seasons and played for 12 years (1968-79) with the Bengals.

Next at Tennessee was Tom Johnson (1971-72) who went on to play in the Canadian Football League. Finally there was Paul Johnson (1974-75) who at 205 pounds was better suited to play linebacker or safety. But the Tennessee coaches saw him as another snapping Johnson, so he anchored the offensive line. He also snapped his senior season for a young punter who was pretty good, a guy named Craig Colquitt who went on to win Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and fathered a punting son named Dustin, who is now punting for the Chiefs. Small world.

The small world of snapping wasn’t going to happen with Adam Johnson. He was raised in the southern California sunshine to be a quarterback and that was the position he played at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga and at Chafee Junior College. Johnson headed for the University of Buffalo where he was going to play quarterback. But he lost the battle for the starting job to a younger passer and sought other ways to help the program. He played some wide receiver, but eventually settled in at tight end. He also began deep snapping again.

“I went to college with no aspirations of ever snapping again,” said Johnson. “When I got beat out by a younger guy (at Buffalo) I started snapping again. The special teams coach there was Brian Polian (son of Indianapolis GM Bill Polian) and he noticed I snapped the ball pretty fast. So I ended up snapping my two years there.”

Johnson got a chance to snap in the Hula Bowl after his senior season, but he went undrafted in April of 2004 but eventually signed as a rookie free agent with the Panthers. He showed enough there that he spent that entire season on the Panthers practice squad and went to camp with Carolina last year. Johnson survived until the final cutdown.

Now, he’s taking another shot. In front of him is Kendall Gammon, one of the league’s most veteran and accomplished snappers.

“I have the utmost respect for Kendall,” Johnson said. “I’m learning a lot from him. I’ve been around long enough, I’m polished, I feel like I’m ready to step in, no matter the situation and handle the job. I feel like I’m completely ready to play.”

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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