Aug 20, 2023

Millbrook grad Johnson to miss season with Chiefs after ACL tear

Nazeeh Johnson

Millbrook graduate and second-year Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Nazeeh Johnson will miss the 2023 NFL season after being placed on injured reserve. Johnson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a training camp practice on Saturday.

Nazeeh Johnson won’t be playing for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023, but he plans on being better than ever in 2024.

The 25-year-old Millbrook High School graduate and cornerback tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a training camp practice on Saturday at Missouri Western State University’s indoor facility in St. Joseph, Mo.

Johnson — who starred on special teams and helped the Chiefs win the Super Bowl last year in his rookie season out of Marshall University — will not play this season after being placed on injured reserve and will need surgery. In a phone interview on Sunday night, Johnson said he was told it will be a nine-month process before he can train normally.

On special teams last year, Johnson made 10 tackles in 14 combined regular season and playoff games despite not being made a gunner on the punt team until Dec. 11, the Chiefs’ 13th regular-season game in the 17-game schedule. He also set up critical punt returns in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl with his blocking.

Johnson did not play a single snap on defense for the Chiefs in 2022, but it looked like that was going to change in 2023. Training camp opened for the Chiefs on July 23, and Johnson said he had worked with the first team defense every day since in three-cornerback packages, lining up on the outside. (Thursday was the team’s only day off).

But on Saturday, Johnson’s goal of becoming a defensive contributor this year came to a crashing halt after practice moved from outside on grass to indoors on artificial turf because of heavy rain. In a 7-on-7 drill on one of the first plays after moving inside, quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed to Justin Watson with Johnson in coverage.

“I tried to adjust my body to the back-shoulder throw,” Johnson said. “My body moved, but my leg had planted into the turf. The turf didn’t give. I turned my body and my leg stayed planted, and there goes my ACL.”

Johnson said the pain was excruciating.

“It’s almost like a stinger, but 10 times worse,” Johnson said. “It just felt like this pressure was on my knee. I just didn’t want to move. I just wanted to lay there. I didn’t want anybody to touch me. I didn’t know whether to cry, yell, or [do] nothing. I just sat there in shock, basically.”

Johnson hoped he had hyperextended his knee, but he heard a “pop” noise, so he was told it was likely more serious. He had a magnetic resonance imaging test 30 minutes after it happened, which revealed the ACL tear.

Had the inclement weather not forced the Chiefs indoors, the injury might not have happened.

“The turf just doesn’t give as much as the ground does,” Johnson said. “But it was just a freak accident, and that’s just part of football.”

ACL tears are always devastating, but the progress Johnson had shown makes this injury particularly disheartening.

Several media outlets have reported how well he was playing during camp, pointing out his numerous pass breakups and tight coverage. Head coach Andy Reid, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and special teams coordinator Dave Toub have all praised Johnson for his play during camp, and it’s clear that they want to see what Johnson can do after he rehabilitates his injury.

“I was right there,” Johnson said. “I was doing a hell of a job. I was going with the [first team] every day, starting with the [first team]. To be that close to being out there and potentially being a starter when the season came around, to go out like that, it’s kind of upsetting.”

Johnson said having stronger knowledge of the playbook was helping him make a difference this year.

“I was knowing where I need to be and just making plays within the defense,” Johnson said. “I knew the playbook like the back of my hand. I was able to jump plays and showcase my athletic ability.”

Johnson said he plans on working with a doctor in Alabama for ACL treatment and rehabilitation. One of the things that helped the 5-foot-10, 199-pound Johnson stand out before he was selected by the Chiefs in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL draft was his speed — his top 40-yard dash time was 4.35 seconds at his Marshall pro day — and he’ll look to display that again.

“I’m going to attack this like I would something on the field so I can come back and be better than I was,” Johnson said.

Cornerback Joshua Williams — who along with Johnson is part of the “Fab Five” group of defensive backs that the Chiefs drafted in 2022 — has expressed how much it hurt him to see Johnson get injured. Johnson has told his friends he’ll be pulling for them as Kansas City looks to defend its Super Bowl title.

“They all know how bad I really want this, and know how hard I’ve worked,” Johnson said. “They all feel bad for me, but I told them not to because it’s part of the process and said, ‘You guys go out there and do what y’all did before.’ And I told them I’m still going to be there to support them.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki

at [email protected]

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Nazeeh Johnson

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