When Jarret Johnson admits that the shoulder injury that he played through last year was "pretty painful", you know he's not messing around.
In addition to being one of the most underrated players on the Ravens roster, Johnson is also one of the toughest. The outside linebacker has appeared in all but one game in his seven-year NFL career, and despite tearing the labrum in his right shoulder during the season last year, Johnson played through the pain, starting all 16 regular season games and both postseason contests.
"Jarret is the kind of guy, you can't get him off the field," head coach John Harbaugh says. "He may have a serious injury, he may be out there playing with one arm, and you try to take him out, and you've got a fight on your hands. He's fighting with one arm, but he still, he doesn't want to come out."
Once the season was over, Johnson had the labrum surgically repaired. He spent the spring months rehabbing and trying to regain the range of motion in his shoulder.
"I was surprised at how quick they have you moving," Johnson said. "They have you in there the day after surgery, doing your range of motion stuff and moving around. It was amazing how quick they got me back in there. Just kind of progressing every day, moving up more and more. They've got you starting on light weights and you build up from there."
Johnson says that while he still can hear something click in his shoulder when throwing a ball every now and then, he feels like he's 100 percent healthy.
The issue now is building up the strength that he lost because of the injury and subsequent surgery.
"Last year, I came across one of my [weight lifting] cards from the year before, and it was like 350 [pounds] for a set of four and five benching. Those days are over," Johnson says with a laugh. "Now, it's more like 180, 225, stuff like that. It was a little depressing when I saw that, but overall, my strength is pretty good."
Johnson might not have been able to put up the numbers he would have liked in the weight room last year, but he certainly put up big-time numbers on the field.
The Alabama product battled through his injury and put together the best statistical season of his career, posting 70 tackles, a career-high six sacks (including one, at right, that came on the first play from scrimmage against the Broncos), a career-high two interceptions, four passes defensed and a forced fumble.
It was a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and while it didn't result in a Pro Bowl appearance, Johnson doesn't seem to mind. Awards and accolades are not the things that the mild-mannered southern guy chooses to focus on.
"I've gotten a little more popular and a little more pup every year, but it doesn't change the fact that the only reason that I'm getting more recognition is because I improve every year," Johnson said. "That's the only thing I'm focused on this year.
"I don't care about the Pro Bowl, I don't care about respect, all I care about is being better than the year before. That's it."
So does he feel like he'll be better in 2010 than he was last year?
"You never know until you get through training camp," he says. "Last year was the best season I've had in my career. The year before that was my best year [at that time]. I'm just hoping that this year is going to be another 'best year' of my career. As long as I do that, I'll keep playing."