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With special teams tackle, Alexander Johnson shows off natural physical ability

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Chicago's Taquan Mizzell caught Brandon McManus' third-quarter kickoff 5 yards deep in his own end zone and raced out toward the Broncos' side of the field.

He didn't get far.

At his own 12-yard line, Mizzell hesitated and tried to cut back toward the center of the field.

That's where he found company.

Rookie linebacker Alexander Johnson split a double team at the 20-yard line, and at the 15-yard line, he caught up with Mizzell.

"Mizell is flattened in a big way," play-by-play voice Steve Levy said on the broadcast. "Crushed down inside the 15-yard line."

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker played just 13 other snaps — three more on special teams and 10 on defense — but in his first football game since 2014, he showed flashes of his athleticism and physicality.

That's about as much as the coaching staff could expect from Johnson, who arrived in Denver just four days before the game.

"He was like a 'see ball, get ball' guy," Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods said Tuesday. "He'd basically been here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But he was out there, he was running around. He's still learning the defense. He made a few mistakes. But the one thing we know is that he's big, he's strong and he's a physical player. He'll just keep getting better."

There will be no immediate effort to rush that process. Head Coach Vance Joseph on Monday evaluated Johnson's game, and while he liked what he saw, he said the young player will need far more reps.

"He's obviously a big, powerful man," Joseph said. "He made a nice tackle on kickoff and just ran through a double team. His physical ability is obviously apparent. He needs to play more football, he needs to be in more meetings. He's been here now for what, a week? A week and a half? We've got plenty of time to get him ready to go."

Woods echoed that sentiment and said he and the coaching staff will aim to find Johnson more reps during the preseason.

Whether that translates to the regular season remains to be seen. Johnson has plenty to learn as he aims to make the Broncos' 53-man roster.

As Joseph said, though, his physical talent is more than evident.

His next challenge will be to replicate that special teams performance during a number of snaps.

Johnson should receive more snaps this week, and he could very well play quite a bit against Arizona in Week 4 of the preseason.

If his debut was any indication, he's worth watching.

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