Lonnie Johnson Jr. made headlines earlier this week when the Texans rookie cornerback tackled Packers rookie Jace Sternberger so hard his helmet flew off, sending a mob of Green Bay Packers after him and eventually getting booted from Monday’s joint practice between the two squads.
Following practice, the Packers were angry. Especially on behalf of Sternberger, who is now being evaluated for a concussion and is listed as questionable for Thursday’s preseason game. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien dismissed his removing Johnson as “not a big deal,” while Johnson himself later responded with an Instagram post in poor taste that showed him flexing over a helmetless Sternberger after the hit.
While Packers head coach Matt LaFleur disavowed Johnson’s actions, and Rodgers said he wouldn’t mind if the Packers didn’t have joint practices for “another 14 years,” the conflict had fizzled to social media by the end of Tuesday’s final joint session between the teams. Partly because Johnson was held out of practice.
But those frustrated with the conclusion might do well to remember it wasn’t so long ago that Sternberger was at Texas A&M and humiliating Johnson with one hand during last season when the Aggies defeated Kentucky 20-14 in overtime.
Check out the play for yourself from multiple angles, courtesy SBNation’s Peter Bokowski:
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No Regrets from Johnson
O’Brien confirmed Wednesday that Johnson will be playing in Thursday’s preseason matchup against the Packers, which puts eyes — and maybe some crosshairs — on Johnson and how he will follow up the altercation.
After his removal Monday, Packers ripped the rookie cornerback for his behavior. Per ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, star wide receiver Davante Adams deemed it the hit “unnecessary,” while five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham called the play “absolutely ridiculous.”
But between his Instagram post and a retweet of a report about the hit on Sternberger, Johnson seems just as eager as his head coach to brush off the incident and move on.
Johnson recorded 64 tackles and one interception in two seasons with Kentucky before the Texans drafted him in the second round at 54th overall. He signed a rookie deal in May that is due to pay him $5.2 million over four years.
Unless Sternberger checks out as 100 percent healthy, count on the Packers keeping him on the sideline. No sense in risking talent positioned to make the team’s final 53-man roster.
As a catch-first tight end, though, Sternberger holds a certain degree of importance to the Packers offensive game plan, specifically in double-tight end sets, which leaves the Packers needing more flexibility at tight end.
Unlike their running back situation, which is quite desperate these days, the Packers have veterans to lean on in Graham and Marcedes Lewis, who signed late with Green Bay late last season and made three catches for 39 yards.
Sternberger’s absence also creates more opportunity for second-year pro Robert Tonya, who is looking to carve out a bigger place for himself after seeing his first NFL action in 2018. He played in all 16 games last season, starting one, and making four catches for 77 yards. A chunk of his yardage, though, came on a 54-yard touchdown reception from Aaron Rodgers.
Tonyan survived the odds last season during the Packers’ training camp and made the 53-man roster after spending time chipping away on the practice squad. A wider-open race makes it all the more likely he’ll capitalize and remain with the team into the regular season.