Iowa Football

Defensive back D.J. Johnson leaves Iowa football

Sophomore cornerback might've been in competition for a starting cornerback spot next fall

Iowa defensive back DJ Johnson (12) laughs with teammates during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa
Iowa defensive back DJ Johnson (12) laughs with teammates during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (The Gazette)

Iowa sophomore defensive back D.J. Johnson announced via social media on Wednesday that he is leaving the Hawkeyes program.

The 5-11, 185-pound sophomore started 2019 as Iowa’s cash safety. After an injury at cornerback, Johnson started there in week 2 against Iowa State. He had two pass breakups and earned the Big Ten’s freshman of the week.

Johnson started at cornerback the next week at Michigan and then didn’t play a defensive snap the rest of the season. Matt Hankins returned to the lineup. Junior Riley Moss, who fought a knee injury early last year, returned to health and assumed backup corner snaps. From there, Johnson played special teams.

“After long thought, consideration and prayer, I have decided to enter my name in the NCAA transfer portal with three years of eligibility left,” Johnson tweeted Wednesday. “Excited to begin my new journey and see what the future holds.”

Johnson saw nearly all 191 of his snaps in the first five games of the season. For 2020, Johnson probably was looking at backup left corner behind Hankins, with the possibility of some nickel and dime duty, along with special teams. For what it’s worth, Johnson did tweet that his departure had nothing to do with playing time.

So, who climbs the ladder?

— Pending knee health, sophomore Julius Brents might have the inside track to the No. 3 corner spot, which would include sub package play. Knee issues kept Brents on the sidelines for most of 2019. He had a positive beginning to his career, seeing four starts as a true freshman in 2018, and will be a player when he’s healthy.

— This is a huge opportunity for sophomore Terry Roberts. Right now, you know him as the guy who might’ve recovered the muffed punt to close out Iowa State last year if Devonte Young wasn’t there to pounce. The Erie, Pa., native has quietly collected kudos during this spring season.

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— Iowa corner and now Denver Bronco Michael Ojemudia gave this scouting report of Iowa’s defensive backs at the NFL combine in February: “There are so many guys, I want to see how coach (defensive coordinator/secondary coach Phil) Parker is going to do it. You can’t keep them all off the field.”

On Brents: “Julius is the athletic freak out of all of them.”

On Roberts: “Terry, you guys haven’t seen much of him, but he’s a speed demon.”

On redshirt freshman Dauran McKinney: “He’s young, but he’s learning up the ranks.”

And then just overall, Ojemudia said, “There’s a lot of guys and it’s going to be up to them to learn as much as they can and show how well they can play and prove themselves. But I think there’s a bright future and coach Parker is going to have a hard time keeping them off the field.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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