CHICAGO — Vols sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson was named to the 2012 Butkus Award Preseason Watch List. Johnson was a consensus Freshman All-American after the 2011 season. The Butkus Award list features 51 candidates, honoring its namesake No. 51 Dick Butkus.
The Gainesville, Ga., native was named a First-Team Freshman All-American by Football Writers of America, The Sporting News, Fox Sports, Phil Steele, Yahoo! Sports in 2011. The five Freshman All-American honors set a Tennessee record, breaking mark of four by Eric Berry in 2009. Johnson was also a 2011 SEC All-Freshman Team selection.
Johnson played in all 12 games, starting 10 and led all SEC freshmen in tackles with 80, which was the second-most by a Vols’ freshman all-time. Only current Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Eric Berry had more with 86 in 2007. Johnson was one of four true freshmen to rank among top two on his team in tackles among all D-I FBS schools. He shared the Vols’ lead in tackles on four occasions and became the only UT true freshman in UT history to have three double-figure tackle games in a season (Berry had two in 2007) with 10-plus in three games in a row (10/15-29).
Johnson had 36 tackles in a three game span (12.0 per game) against #1 LSU, #2 Alabama, and #14 South Carolina. He piled up 12 tackles and recovered a fumble vs. #14 South Carolina (10/29). Johnson racked up career-high 13 tackles at #2 Alabama (10/22), second-most tackles by a true freshman in a game in UT history (record Eric Berry, vs. Kentucky in 2007) to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Johnson also had 11 tackles against #1 LSU (10/15), first double-figure tackle total by a freshman since Eric Berry in 2007.
The Vols have had five previous semifinalists for the Butkus Award: Keith DeLong (Finalist in 1988), Al Wilson (Semifinalist in 1998), Raynoch Thompson (Finalist in 1999), Eric Westmoreland (Semifinalist in 2000) and Kevin Burnett (Semifinalist in 2004).
The 28th annual Butkus Award® selection process to honor the nation’s best linebackers begins Monday with announcement of the collegiate and high school pre-season watch list.
Each watch list contains 51 candidates, honoring the now-retired professional jersey number of Dick Butkus, who is regarded by NFL Films as the best defensive player in football history. The selection panel is comprised of 51 coaches, evaluators and journalists, coordinated by Pro Football Weekly.
The Collegiate Butkus Award watch list includes 51 candidates from 38 universities. Manti Te’o of Notre Dame is the only returning finalist, after having won the inaugural High School Butkus Award in 2008.
Candidates in addition to those appearing on the watch list may be considered for the Award.
Semi-finalists will be named October 22, finalists November 20, and winners will be notified on or before December 4. The Professional Butkus Award winner will be announced in January 2013. Winners will be featured in a television special a week before the Super Bowl.