Larry Johnson's Style Much Different Than His Predecessor

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Last updated: 04/02/2014 1:55 AM
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Larry Johnson's Style Much Different Than His Predecessor
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — You only needed to attend one Ohio State practice in the previous three seasons to get a sense of Mike Vrabel's coaching style. It was intense, it was impatient, and it was effective.

Vrabel was a budding coaching star in college football, and a favorite among his players. This past January, however, the former Ohio State defensive great took his coaching talents to the Houston Texans and the NFL.

Within a week, Meyer turned to Penn State's Larry Johnson and brought him to Ohio State to pick up the very talented pieces that Vrabel left behind.

Johnson is a long-established coaching star, and as the Buckeyes themselves are finding, he has a very different approach to that of the departed Vrabel.

"It's just a different attitude, I think," explained defensive end Joey Bosa. 

Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson
Photo by Dan Harker
Larry Johnson

"Their techniques and stuff, it's all similar. I think it's just the attitude that he brings out is a little different. He's more positive, I dare say. That's all I'm really gonna say about that."

Bosa ended his comments with a laugh, but the point was made. When it comes to getting the most out of their players, Johnson's approach seems a little more method, while Vrabel is a little more madness.

Asked if there is anybody to "tear him down" and keep him from getting a big head following his success as a true freshman last season, Bosa said there is no tearing down, only building up.

"Coach J is super positive, so he's never really tearing anyone down. The coaches have been much more positive and trying to coach and make us better instead of tearing us down. It's been very positive."

This is not to say that Vrabel's approach was the wrong way to go, because the results would disagree. The OSU defensive line amassed 32.5 sacks last season, which is the most for that unit since the 2000 defensive line came away with 33. No, sacks are not the only tale a defensive line tells, but it is the most prominent.

Looking at it another way, the two seasons prior to Vrabel taking over, the Buckeyes' defensive line combined for a two-year total of 32 sacks. While Vrabel's coaching style may be considered a bit louder, so can the production.

Defensive tackle Tommy Schutt has seen both methods up close now, and thinks both work just fine.

"It's definitely two different approaches that I think are pretty successful," he said.

"As far as emotional and vocal, I would say they're both pretty much the same. Coach Johnson is very encouraging. He teaches us. If you make a mistake, you're not getting yelled at as much, it's more encouraged and taught what you need to do correctly. Very positive."

Since his arrival in Columbus, Johnson has consistently talked about his role as a teacher. His players want to be great players, and it's Johnson's job to see those desires realized.

"My style is different, it really is," he said.

"I'm a teacher first, and then I'm going to do all of the things I can as fast as I can. I try to play the game in practice, and that's a different style. I'm telling you, the guys are buying into it. Not one guy is questioning what we've done and that's kind of neat."

In the process of teaching his players what he wants them to learn, he is going to keep their heads up while he's doing it. That might be a little different than what the Ohio State defensive linemen are accustomed to, but they seem to be warming to the idea.

"What's unique about him is that he's always a motivator," defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said about Johnson. 

"He's going to tell you what to do, he's going to show you how to do it, and he's going to motivate you to do it. Instead of just using an angry approach to it, he uses more of a teaching approach."

Will that approach lead to an even more productive 2014? That remains to be seen, but considering that everybody on the 2013 defensive line returns this season, expectations are that they will wreak havoc yet again. 

Of course, if you are wondering if the players and coaches expect to be better this season, you should already know the answer to that.

"On the field they believe what we're doing," Johnson said.

"The questions they're asking in the room, they want to learn football. They want to know how to get better. Not to be good players, but to be great players. I think that's the sense of raising the bar in the room, and I'm really excited about that."

If the OSU front four is better than they were a year ago, that will not only speak to both Vrabel and Johnson being effective teachers, but also to the players for being able to adapt to two very different coaching styles.

The styles can be as different as night and day, but as long as the production is as consistent as the sun and the moon, Johnson will have done his job very well, just as Vrabel did before him.

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