Mike Vrabel had a way of putting things, his players remembered yesterday and, more often than not, an epithet was attached.
His replacement as defensive line coach, Larry Johnson, apparently gets his point across in more-polite terms, though he shouldn’t be taken as a soft touch.
“I’d say the only thing is he doesn’t curse,” senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said, smiling, when asked about the difference between the two. “They’re both great coaches. They bring a lot of energy. They care. They love you. And they’re going to get after you if you mess up.
“But coach Johnson doesn’t curse.”As sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa said, “It’s just a different attitude. Their technique and stuff is all similar.”
Johnson “is more positive, I dare say. That’s all I’m really going to say about that,” Bosa said.
Has he responded to that style? “Yeah, I think it’s been good the last couple of weeks.”
In January, Urban Meyer hired Johnson away from Penn State, where he had been for 18 years, to replace Vrabel, who took a job as linebackers coach with the Houston Texans. As much as drilling in the Meyer mantra — “four to six seconds full effort, from point A to point B” — has been a point of emphasis, so has building a bond.
“They have to trust me,” Johnson said. “I tell them all the time, once they drink the Kool-Aid, we’re ready to go. Understanding ‘four to six, A to B,’ that’s the style we’re going to play here.
“I told them the first day I got here, I’m going to reach as far as I can to reach ’em, to really develop a trust. And I have. When they start reaching back, that’s when we’re on the same page. And right now, they’re reaching back, and that’s really smart, really great to see.”
The signs have come through the spring practice sessions, he said, the seventh of which was yesterday.
“It shows with the work on the field — they believe in what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “The questions they’re asking, they want to learn football. They want to know how to get better; not how to be good players, how to be great players. That sense of raising the bar, I’m real excited about that.”
It’s also about pushing to the limit on the field, Bennett said. It’s well-known by now that defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and new co-coordinator Chris Ash simplified the scheme this spring, while at the same time demanding relentless effort as they try to fix last year’s glaring deficiencies. Johnson demands as much.
“He just wants us to go 100 percent to the ball on every play,” Bennett said.
An example would be a screen play — last year, if a defensive lineman thought it was out of his chase zone, Bennett said, he might just collide with an offensive lineman and take the rest of the play off.
“With coach Johnson, he wants us running all the way until the ball is on the ground,” Bennett said. “And he wants strip sacks (forced fumbles), not just regular sacks, just little stuff like that. He is really adamant about going until the whistle blows, then getting back on the line and not being tired.”
He is seeing dividends.
“I think we look pretty good,” Bennett said. “A lot of stuff has changed from coach Vrabel and what he taught. But I think the guys really bought into it early in the first two practices, really got what coach Johnson was about and how we needed to start doing things. I think the guys have really adapted and changed and … today we were really getting after the ball, getting to the ball carrier.
“I’m real excited for where we’re going to be. We’re a lot, a lot better than we were last spring.”