As he returned to the Panthers’ locker room following a short weightlifting session Thursday afternoon, defensive end Charles Johnson agreed to talk to a reporter.

The initial topic? Johnson’s dislike of the spotlight.

Before he could answer, a larger group descended to ask Johnson about his strained right groin and his availability for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.

Like it or not, Johnson was unable to avoid the media attention leading up to Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons (2-5) at 1 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium.

If he wasn’t giving daily injury updates – he has said repeatedly he will play, and is listed as probable – then he was recounting his 3 1/2-sack game at Atlanta last season.

But in terms of national publicity, Johnson has gone largely unnoticed.

Despite ranking seventh in the NFL with 39 sacks since becoming a full-time starter in 2010, Johnson has never been to a Pro Bowl. His only All-Pro recognition is a second-team mention on Pro Football Focus’ All-NFL team following the 2010 season.

Johnson, who signed a six-year, $76 million contract in 2011 that was the richest in Panthers history, is more of what NFL people call a “grinder” than a star.

Asked for one word to describe Johnson, Panthers coach Ron Rivera mentioned “enigma” and “aloof” before landing on “consistent.”

“He’s a little bit of an enigma for me trying to figure him out,” Rivera said. “Sometimes you look at him and go, ‘Oh, he doesn’t care.’ Other times you look at him and go, ‘Oh boy, it means a lot to him.’

“At practice, he picks his moments and he goes hard. And then he goes to the sideline and stands. He’s kind of aloof at times because he doesn’t want you to think he cares.

“Then you watch him, and he cares.”