Austin Johnson answers call from Ravens

UT head coach Derek Dooley greets linebacker Austin Johnson (40) as seniors are introduced before play against Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011

UT head coach Derek Dooley greets linebacker Austin Johnson (40) as seniors are introduced before play against Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011.

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When the final pick of the 2012 NFL draft was posted Saturday, it didn't take long for Austin Johnson's phone to ring.

"About one second," Johnson said Sunday.

It was the Baltimore Ravens on the line. Within half an hour, the University of Tennessee senior had agreed to terms on a free-agent deal.

Johnson, an inside linebacker who was UT's leading tackler in 2011, was one of the Vols' few seniors in the free-agent market this draft season.

Another, running back Tauren Poole, apparently has signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers.

Defensive lineman Malik Jackson was the only Vol drafted among the 253 selections, going to Denver in the fifth round.

Virtually everyone else on UT's roster will be back in 2012.

Quarterback Matt Simms and defensive end Ben Martin are about the only other free-agent possibilities.

Johnson had hoped to be drafted but knew he had several options to pick from if he wasn't.

"It's been extremely nerve-racking and a long process," Johnson said. "I had talked to a number of teams. I had a lot of teams interested."

He had visited Oakland and New Orleans in the weeks leading up to the draft. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay had also shown interest.

Baltimore showed the most, even calling Johnson Saturday telling him they hoped to be able to draft him with their final pick in the seventh round.

They didn't. But they also didn't waste time getting him on board after the final pick was in.

"Baltimore wanted me to make a quick decision," Johnson said. "So did the other teams."

He conferred with his agent, Richard Katz, and felt good about saying yes to the Ravens.

"That's the decision I was most at peace with," Johnson said. "Baltimore seemed like the best fit.

"Their middle linebackers are obviously older guys. I could come in and learn from them."

Ray Lewis, the NFL's definitive middle backer, is 36 and has been with the Ravens since he was drafted in 1996.

"I'm so excited to get in there and compete with all those guys," Johnson said. "I couldn't be happier."

The Ravens drafted linebacker Courtney Upshaw of Alabama but he plays a different position than Johnson. As of Sunday afternoon, Johnson was the only linebacker among the club's free-agent class.

Johnson notched 81 tackles as a senior. The one-time fullback also led the team with four interceptions.

Next is finding out when he reports to rookie camp and taking a physical.

Poole was first reported headed to the Seattle Seahawks, according to several websites Saturday night.

Sunday morning, however, he sent a Twitter message that he was headed to Carolina.

"Pretty crazy how things actually turn out in the end," Poole tweeted. "Blessed nonetheless. Time to turn up in Carolina."

After rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a junior, Poole tailed off to 693 yards as a senior when the Vols were among the nation's least productive rushing teams. He also caught 21 passes and has returned kickoffs.

Carolina didn't draft a running back. The Panthers had two primary backs last year, DeAngelo Williams with 836 yards and Jonathan Stewart with 761.

The Panthers haven't announced any signings yet, but the Charlotte Observer on Sunday listed Poole and two other undrafted running backs, Princeton McCarty of Idaho and Lyndon Rowells of Humboldt State.

Two former Vols landed free-agent tryouts.

Janzen Jackson, who finished at McNeese State, will report to the New York Giants. Lennon Creer, who transferred to Louisiana Tech, signed with the Washington Redskins.

Follow Mike Strange at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 6

CroKev writes:

His neck alone should have gotten him drafted. Baltimore certainly sounds like a great match for this young LB.

Man, it's unreal that UT only had one guy go in the entire draft, and that was a 5th rounder. That will certainly change in the next year...

hickoryvol writes:

We are all proud of you Austin back here in your home town, best of luck

OrangeCrush writes:

Baltimore really got a good guy in this deal. Austin should have been drafted. Reminds me a little of how Arian Foster was selected or picked up by the Texans.

Best of luck Austin! Make us proud!

givehim6 writes:

Good job A.J. Ray Lewis will be a good mentor for you buddy. Good luck to Pool as well, show the Panthers the Jr. Pool not the Sr. Congrts to Creer as well, another reason to dislike Kiffin.

voloffaith writes:

in response to givehim6:

Good job A.J. Ray Lewis will be a good mentor for you buddy. Good luck to Pool as well, show the Panthers the Jr. Pool not the Sr. Congrts to Creer as well, another reason to dislike Kiffin.

Gently I say Poole.....not Pool as in swimming...

SignalMtnVol writes:

Good luck, AJ!

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