Pepper Johnson sees lots of his game in Brandon Spikes
|02.01.12 at 11:43 am ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson laughed.
Told that coach Bill Belichick compared him to second-year linebacker Brandon Spikes earlier this season, he waited a beat and responded with a smile.
“That’s a shame,” he said. “That’s a shame Brandon went down that far.”
Last month, Belichick made the connection between the two, saying Spikes’ length and playing style reminded him of Johnson, the former New York linebacker who has become the New England defensive line coach. Spikes is 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, while as a player, Johnson was 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
“You don’t see a lot of inside linebackers with that kind of height, that 6-foot-4ish height,” Belichick said. “Most guys are a little more compact than that. He’s a pretty powerful guy for being that tall like Pepper was, but a lot of those explosive hitters are 6 feet, 6-foot-1, that type of guy.
“I’m just saying there aren’t a lot of them, and I think that’s a problem for the quarterback in terms of the passing game because of their length, their height, their range. They get their hands on a lot of balls, but again, kind of like Pepper, Brandon has power. He’ll go up and strikes with a good thump, whether it’s tackling or taking on blockers, that kind of thing.”
“You know what? My guys and some of my friends noticed that when he was playing at the University of Florida. They reminded him of me. I see it,” Johnson said.
While traditional thinking dictates that on third down and other passing situations, you need to remove one of your linebackers in favor of an extra defensive back (or a speedy linebacker), Johnson believes Spikes is doing a great job discrediting the idea that a big thumper can’t be on the field in those situations.
“He takes away from that stereotype of that big inside linebacker who can’t play on third down. He plays on third down,” Johnson said. “If you want a football player on the field, you’re going to find a way to keep him on the field.
“I remember one day just in joking, [Bill] Parcells really was messing with me when I was with the Jets,” he added. “He knew I was mad that he was taking me off the field on third down. He said ‘If Dick Butkus played today, he wouldn’t play on third down.’ I said ‘BS. You’d figure out a way to keep Butkus on the field.’ He smirked. He laughed and kind of agreed, and said, ‘It’s just so hard.’ I said ‘It’s not hard. You have a guy who is a field general out on the field, you’re going to keep him out there.’
“Not to get on that for a long time, but that’s what Brandon brings to the field. He’s a field general you want out there, and it’s our job to figure out ways to keep him out there.”
Spikes, who has spoken reverently of the Giants’ linebackers of the 1980s, said he’s “honored” by the comparison.
“I’ve been playing this way since I was five or six years old, as long as I can remember,” he said. “I can remember parents at elementary school games saying, ‘He’s too old. He hits too hard. I want to see his birth certificate.’ I thought it was funny. I was watching all the older games I caught on NFL Network back in the day, and guys who played my position, that’s how they played. They try and rip your head off every time they played. I just thought that I wanted to mold my game after that. That’s all I know.
“I take pride in just any time that my number is called, I want to be able to get the job done, and I want my teammates to know that. No matter what, they can depend on me. If 55 is in the game, he will do whatever he needs to do to get it done and more. They know I’m trying to make plays and be a difference maker.”
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