An upbeat Johnson stayed after practice Monday, signing autographs for the fans, making his way along the railing of the stadium seats at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y., where the Bills conduct training camp. He graciously went back to oblige a few fans who called out to him, having missed him during his first trip down the receiving line. He even stopped to sign a baby. (More accurately, the autograph was inscribed on the baby's "Why so serious?" onesie.) Johnson seemed genuinely enthused to meet possibly his youngest fan. "I saw him on Twitter wearing his 'Why so serious' jersey," Johnson said, "and I finally got to meet him in person."
Babies and slogans aside, maybe Johnson's smile is due to the fact that he's finally playing without pain. After suffering a groin injury early last season, Johnson managed to play in every game but knew he wasn't his normal self. A stranger to groin injuries until last year, Johnson was surprised at how much it impacted him.
When asked to describe what it's like to play through an injury that saps some of your key position skills, Johnson came up with this analogy: "Say you're a superhero and you don't have any powers. You still have your regular strength, but you have nothing that goes over the top." He credits both the medical staff and his teammates for helping him get through each week. In addition to the treatment he received throughout the week and after games, Johnson acknowledged the adjustments his teammates made as a result of his injury. "Guys did a good job of placing the ball in certain places where I wouldn't have to overextend," he said, adding, "The Bills staff took care of me. We got through it."
Once the season ended, Johnson could finally get the injury fully addressed. He traveled to Philadelphia, where he underwent a surgical procedure on the two tears in his left groin. Dr. Bill Meyers, renowned for his expertise in repairing sports hernias (he prefers calling them core muscle injuries), performed the operation.
Johnson described the post-surgical recovery as smooth. "For the most part, the recovery was somewhat of a speedy recovery," Johnson said. At first he was limited to laps around the field four or five times for about a week, then he was able to gradually increase his running. Progressive strengthening was next, followed by football activities. Everything has gone well, according to Johnson, as he has ramped up his activity. "Now I really don't feel anything in my groin on my left side," he said.
Johnson declares himself "90-something percent" recovered and says he is running routinely at full speed with "no issues whatsoever." The only real test left is game action. He expects to be involved in preseason games specifically so he can put his body through that final test.
"In practice, I'll catch a pass out here, maybe turn it up six or seven yards," Johnson explained. "In a game, you've got to go try to score, so you're straining a bit more. The guys are coming in to hit you faster and harder, Your reaction time has to be a little bit faster, so your body has to adjust."
And how will he know if he's passed that final test? "We'll see how my legs, how my groin feels when I make a cut, make a catch, then try to burst after the catch," he explained. "If I get up and I'm bouncing around like it's good, then we're good."
With the Bills set to play their first preseason game Thursday night, Johnson's final exam should be just around the corner, after which he plans to still be smiling.