Ex-Vols LB A.J. Johnson signs with Broncos following rape acquittal

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos signed linebacker A.J. Johnson on Monday, less than three weeks after Johnson was acquitted of aggravated rape charges on July 27.

Johnson, who last played in a game in 2014 at the University of Tennessee, was added to the Broncos' roster on Monday and participated in the team's afternoon practice. He was suspended from the Tennessee football team in November 2014 after rape charges were filed against him and his former Vols teammate, Michael Williams.

Johnson was not selected in the 2015 NFL draft and has not played since.

"A.J. hasn't had the opportunity to play football for the last three years while resolving a serious legal matter," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said in a statement. "We've had several conversations with him since he's been cleared and have become very familiar with his background and character. Our organization is confident A.J. is ready to move forward and resume his playing career.''

The Broncos released linebacker Stansly Maponga to make room for Johnson on the roster.

"It was a three-year legal battle for this young man. He was cleared in June,'' Broncos coach Vance Joseph said after Monday's practice. "He wants to play football again. We talked to a lot of his coaches ... everyone spoke highly of him, so we'll see ... we'll see how he fits in.''

Johnson and Williams were indicted in February 2015 after a woman said both men raped her during a party at Johnson's apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 2014. Johnson and Williams were suspended from the team less than 48 hours after the party and never played for Tennessee again.

Asked Monday if he ever thought he wouldn't play football again, Johnson replied, "No, never a time. I had faith. I trusted in God. I kept working and being determined and kept pushing. I knew it was going to come."

Johnson was a three-time All-SEC selection from 2011 to '14. He was a four-year starter in Knoxville whose 425 tackles rank second among any Volunteer since the school started keeping track of the statistic in 1970.

In 46 career games at Tennessee, he had 30½ tackles for loss, three sacks, an interception, 11 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. He posted double digits in tackles 23 times.

The Broncos listed the 6-foot-2 Johnson at 243 pounds, but he said at his trial last month that he weighs 255 as he sought to revive his dream of playing in the NFL.

"I've done a lot of stuff, but pretty much training myself," Johnson said Monday about what he has done to stay in football shape. "I'm a personal trainer. I did MMA for a good bit of time. Just training, staying ready, and I trained people. [I was] working a full-time job while training and everything. Staying positive and kept pushing myself."

Johnson said a couple teams reached out to him, but he tried out only for the Broncos.

"It felt like it was a great fit for me," Johnson said of Denver.

First-year Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was on the Tennessee coaching staff during Johnson's time at the school. Joseph's cousin, Terry Joseph, was also an assistant coach on that Tennessee staff.

"It's been three years since he's actually played football,'' Vance Joseph said. "At that time three years ago, he was a serious prospect ... we'll see, he's been here for three or four hours.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.