Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Micah Johnson respects Charleston Hughes, but believes the green and white can continue to disrupt the quarterback without him.
Hughes led the three-down league with 16 sacks in 17 games during the 2019 season playing alongside Johnson. The CFL all-star pass rusher reached a contract impasse with the Riders and after he was released, the 37-year-old signed with the Toronto Argonauts.
“The production can definitely be replaced. That reaction you get from the offensive linemen, that worry you get from the offensive linemen, that game-plan guy, you can’t replace,” Johnson said.
Johnson pointed to A.C. Leonard as the man who can raise his level of play to make-up for the departure of Hughes. Leonard recorded nine sacks and three forced fumbles in 17 games opposite No. 39 in 2019, including five QB takedowns in the last five games of the regular season. The six-foot-two, 250-pound athlete notched two sacks and one forced fumble in the West Final loss to Winnipeg.
“Him and Charleston were 1A and 1B, and with Charleston being gone, he knows his role,” defensive coordinator Jason Shivers said. “Charleston is going to be a Hall of Famer, he’s a great player, knows how to study. Charleston did a good job working with A.C., but A.C. is his own man.”
“A.C. was blossoming and people don’t really realize how fresh he is on the defensive side of the ball,” Johnson said. “A.C. was an offensive guy, receiver or tight end his whole life — his upside is still growing.”
Similar to Leonard, Johnson views room for growth on his first season in Riderville. The six-foot-two, 278-pound interior disruptor played 15 games and recorded 26 tackles with four sacks — 10 less than his single-season high 14 in 2018 with the Calgary Stampeders.
“They didn’t get nearly the best Micah that they could get. I’m real excited to put that out there and give the Sask fans the best Micah,” Johnson said.
“I felt like I didn’t get to give them my best in 2019, I had the high ankle sprain twice and that lingered the whole year. For me personally, I was just trying to be able to get out there and give it what I could, but I couldn’t workout like I do throughout the week.”
Fully healthy after the cancelled 2020 CFL season, Johnson used boxing and Muay Thai to prepare for returning to the field. He inked a one-year pact with Saskatchewan in February worth $119,000 in hard money with $15,750 available in playtime, statistical and award incentives.
“I really love this place, I love everything about it,” Johnson said. “If you’re a football guy, you don’t want to be anywhere but Saskatchewan.”