ORONO, Maine — Derrick Johnson was just starting to get settled in with the New England Patriots last month when he strained his left knee during Organized Team Activities.
Even so, Johnson knew he would have another opportunity with New England.
“Coach [Bill] Belichick told me to go home and get healthy and come back when I was ready,” said Johnson, who re-signed with the Patriots on Friday.
Citing the knowledge and help of the folks at Professional Physical Therapy in Garden City, New York, Johnson believes he is ready to get back to work on pursuing his NFL dream.
“I worked out and did a lot of running. I feel really good now, a lot stronger than I was before,” he said of his knee.
Johnson, who worked out for the team on Thursday to demonstrate his physical readiness, then flew back to Long Island to collect his belongings and say goodbye to his family. He heads back to Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Saturday in anticipation of the start of training camp.
“Camp starts Monday, but all rookies have to report Sunday,” said Johnson, who expects to have a bit of a better comfort level the second time around.
“My position coach told me that I was doing really well. I was struggling a little bit with the playbook,” he said of New England’s complex offensive system and different terminology.
However, Johnson said that as he gets more comfortable with the X’s and O’s, he hopes to allow his physical tools to take over.
“Speed is my No. 1 asset,” he said. “I want to continue to play fast and get the playbook down, try to make plays and learn as much as I can from the veterans.”
Johnson praised Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his approach to the game.
“He’s a real professional,” he said. “He always comes into work looking to get better and make other people better as well.”
In 2013, Johnson tied for the UMaine lead in receptions with 60 for 608 yards and caught two touchdown passes in 13 games.
In the Black Bears’ 24-14 victory over Massachusetts last September at the home of the Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Johnson had a team-high five receptions for 38 yards.
While at UMaine, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Johnson recorded 116 catches for 1,185 yards and four touchdowns in 37 career games.
Johnson joins former Black Bears Mike Devito (Kansas City Chiefs), Kendall James (Minnesota Vikings), Jerron McMillian (Kansas City Chiefs), Matthew Mulligan (Chicago Bears), Justin Perillo (Green Bay Packers) and Montell Owens (Detroit Lions) as former University of Maine football student-athletes signed to NFL teams.
The Patriots have a handful of veteran wide receivers in training camp, including Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell and special teams standout Matthew Slater, along with several others.
That Patriots on Thursday released rookie wide receivers Jeremy Johnson and Reese Wiggins.
The 22-year-old Johnson signed as a free agent on May 29. Last season at Southern Methodist University, the senior led the team with 112 receptions for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns. In four years with the Mustangs, Johnson totaled 196 catches for 1,936 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Wiggins, 23, joined New England as a free agent on May 27. He had 26 receptions for 372 yards and four touchdowns as a senior last year at East Carolina and 80 career catches for 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns in college.