Elsewhere Rob Harley replaces the injured Alasdair Strokosch on the blindside flank.
"Rob deserves this chance as a reward for his club form," said Johnson. "He's big and aggressive and he's been knocking on the door for selection for a wee while.
"He's got a great work ethic and the right to be angry being a red head. The fact is we need some contact dominance and he provides that. I'm really, really happy to have him back."
Ford will win his 65th cap in the Murrayfield encounter and Johnson has urged his side to come out fighting against Italy, who will arrive in Edinburgh buoyed by their shock victory over France
"Italy's victory against France in Rome was well-deserved and certainly didn't surprise us," added Johnson.
"We want better effort. The game, once again, will be based in the contact area and my thoughts after the game against England haven't changed to now.
"We know what the issue is and we are deluding ourselves if we say it is anything else. We just need to get better at it and I'm sure we will."
Scotland team to play Italy: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tim Visser (Edinburgh); Ruaridh Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh); Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Worcester Warriors), Richie Gray (Sale Sharks), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier).
Replacements: Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors)/Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby), Henry Pyrgos (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Castres).