Coming out of Montgomery Bell Academy, Wesley Johnson and the former Vanderbilt coaches who recruited him never settled on a position.
That didn’t matter to him.
“I knew I was playing offensive line,” Johnson said. “I remember I told the coaches that I just wanted to get on the field as fast as I could. Now, I’m kind of playing whatever they want me to.”
He’s not joking.
Last week, Johnson capped added to his personal “musical offensive line” by starting at left guard for the Commodores, filling in for injured Ryan Seymour. He has now played all three line positions. He started the season at center and moved to left tackle when Logan Stewart got healthy.
Heading into Saturday’s game at rival Tennessee (6 p.m., Neyland Stadium), Johnson is listed first on the depth chart at left tackle. Of course, he must be flexible because he’s the second option at left guard if Seymour still isn’t healthy enough to start.
“Wesley Johnson is a utility man,” quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. “He is such a good player and so smart. He knows his role and has been vital to our success. We wouldn’t be able to do that without his versatility.”
A two-time all-state performer at MBA, Johnson redshirted in 2009 before being thrust into action last season. Despite being undersized, he started all 12 games at left tackle, earning ALL-SEC Freshman honors for protecting the quarterback’s blind side from some of the league’s best defensive ends.
Due to the unit’s lack of depth — the line had just seven players with college experience prior to this season — Johnson began shifting around in the spring. He started to take repetitions at center. When Stewart still wasn’t ready by the season opener due to mononucleosis, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Johnson got the nod.
“It is kind of the expectation now,” Johnson said. “Early on when we didn’t have as much depth, we were all sort of forced to learn multiple positions. I think probably everybody on our line can play multiple positions, except for one or two people.”
When Seymour went down with an injury against Florida, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin had a choice to make. He could have moved redshirt-freshman Chase White up the ladder. Instead, he went with his “gut reaction” and started Mr. Versatility at left guard.
Johnson, of course, didn’t object. It might have been the first time he had played the position in a game but he had practiced there — showing off his flexibility at all three positions when he redshirted in 2009.
“We all have experience at the position,” Johnson said. “It is not as drastic of a difference as it would be had I been starting cold turkey at left guard. I guess I like tackle the most just because that is where I feel the most natural at. But I think whatever is helping us win is probably the best position.”
Johnson’s presence on the left side has been instrumental to the offense’s second-half surge. In its last five games, Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5) has averaged 33 points and nearly 210 rushing yards. In the last six games, the Commodores have allowed just seven sacks – after giving up 16 in the first four games.
While Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy, who is 109 rushing yards away from 1,000 for the season, draw most of the attention, Franklin says it isn’t far-fetched to consider Johnson as the team’s offensive MVP.
“I think you can make that argument,” Franklin said. “You talk about a guy that not only played one of your more critical positions at left tackle, and played it well, but then has also been able to have the flexibility that we have been able to fill him in for whatever holes we think we have to get the five best offensive linemen on the field. He has created a lot of that flexibility.
"What Wesley has been able to do for us is dramatic.”