Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson roared to life during team drills at Wofford College last week as he ran down scat back Fozzy Whittaker.
At 6-2 and 278 pounds, he would have eaten Whittaker’s breakfast, and his lunch too, had he been allowed to hit at full power.
It was a flash of the skill often displayed by a younger Johnson, the one who became the No. 2 on the franchise’s all-time sacks list over what has so far been a 10-year NFL career, and a welcome burst after a long spring.
Johnson’s 31-year-old motor is working now, but in February, he woke up in his stately Charlotte home and realized he couldn’t walk.
In fact, Johnson couldn’t even feel one of his legs.
“Literally, I could not walk for two weeks,” he said on Thursday afternoon. “When that happened, I was like, man, I have to do something to make this right.”
The crazy thing is, there were so many people that came up to me and said they had the same thing done. Especially in the building!
Charles Johnson, on his back surgery
Johnson immediately called head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion, and had an epidural that was supposed to help alleviate the problem, which Johnson said was in his back.
But it made things worse.
“It’s kind of scary, if you can’t walk, can’t feel your foot, your leg. It’ll scare you up,” he said.
He thinks his back injury was possibly related to a constant hamstring issue he had struggled with in 2016, but doesn’t know for sure.
“The older you get, the more stuff starts nagging you,” he said. “I’ve had a couple minor injuries in my back, but it never fazed me until this offseason where I couldn’t walk.”
Johnson reluctantly agreed to have a microdiscectomy on his back. He said he felt “immediate relief” once the procedure was over. He then spent his recovery process explaining to his son, Prince, why he couldn’t lift him up for a few weeks – and wondering if he’d ever play football again.
After back surgery, Charles Johnson spent his recovery process explaining to his son, Prince, why he couldn’t lift him up for a few weeks – and wondering if he’d ever play football again.
“It went through my mind, I’m definitely not going to lie,” said Johnson, sighing and shaking his head. “When you can’t walk, and you can’t feel anything in your leg, you think about all types of stuff. The crazy thing is, there were so many people that came up to me and said they had the same thing done. Especially in the building!
“They gave me a lot of hope of how they did it, because they had good recoveries from their surgeries.”
Johnson remains limited, but less so as the days pass. He signed a two-year extension this spring and hopes to be an efficient part of the Panthers’ 2017 pass-rush rotation, which now includes franchise sack leader and 14-year NFL veteran Julius Peppers and speedy sack artist Mario Addison, who led the team in takedowns last season.
“To this day, I’m still rehabbing,” he said. “Trying to get it back right. It’s feeling good, and getting better, so I’m just going through this process to keep getting better every day.
“It just feels good to be here, be healthy. That’s my main thing, I’m trying to stay healthy and stay positive about everything.”