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Evaluating the Defensive Linemen with DL Coach Don Johnson
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Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches to get the inside scoop about the Bolts. We now turn our attention to DL Coach Don Johnson to get his thoughts on the defensive line.
Chargers.com: What are your overarching thoughts about the defensive line position right now? What would you say are the strengths of the unit heading into 2015?
Johnson: I think the guys have come back in with a sense of urgency. The depth and competition we have is going to help out as well. I’m impressed by our work ethic, and I think the competition at each position will bring out the best. This group is still young. You have guys right at the pinnacle of their career where it’s make or break, and I think that is exciting. This is a 20-something crew that wants to be a 30-something crew in a number of years.
Johnson: He is another who fits into the mold of what we’re looking for. His quickness and explosiveness make him an effective pass rusher. He can make game changing plays. We were shocked looking at the board to see him still sitting there in the sixth round based on our evaluations with his natural talent.
Johnson: He is a true student of the game. He has a great work ethic, and his ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl. Not only that, but to also become a Pro Bowl player and an All Pro player at some point in time in the near future. He is really driven by that, and is working real hard to accomplish it.
Chargers.com: Ryan Carrethers’ confidence grew by leaps and bounds as last year progressed. Where is he at right now in his development?
Johnson: Ryan is unique because he is coming from a program at Arkansas State where he was the top dog. He dominated and played real well there, but then he comes in here as a rookie and is the miniature pup as a rookie around some big dogs. But you are right. The light came on as the year went on. You saw once when healthy what he is capable of doing. We’re excited. He had I think five unassisted tackles (in a game). But then he had the elbow injury which set him back, but I think he’s back to where he was before that so we’re excited to see him on the field. We saw the progression in his technique, confidence, ability and fundamentals. With another offseason program, I think he believes he can do even better.
Johnson: Kendall is very knowledgeable in football, as well as other aspects of life. He is an open book, and loves to learn. He will help other guys who need assistance because that is Kendall. That’s his personality. He was second in sacks two years ago, so we would like to see him elevate back to that in rushing the passer. There is always room for growth as with everyone, and we are looking for him to be a more dominant player. He does a nice job against the run, and he is in the position where he gets attacked a lot because he is on the tight end side.
Johnson: I think he’s grown a lot. He’s been put in a position where he’s played the same position on a continuous basis. He had been moved around a little bit from defensive end to nose to defensive tackle. I think he’s settled in, and you can see him progress. He’s become a real effective nose throughout the course of his time here.
Johnson: He brings energy and effort. I can’t quote Miley Cyrus, but I will. He’s like a wrecking ball. His enthusiasm is great and so is his personality. Anything at any time can come out of his mouth, which is good…at times (Laughs). He has great passion on and off the field, and is a real excitable person. I think he’s excited to have the opportunity to be in the same system two years in a row. He had some success at the end of last year, and he’s looking forward to continuing that this year.
Johnson: Mitch plays with great effort and is a student of the game. He is fundamentally and technically sound, so he fits right in with what we are looking for in a defensive lineman.
Chargers.com: Tenny Palepoi came in as an undrafted free agent last year and earned a spot on this team. What are your thoughts on him entering his second season?
Johnson: Tenny is a multitasker. He can play every position on the defensive line from nose to end to tackle. He’s another student of the game and is very mature. He is a family man and is determined to provide for his family. He comes to work that way every day with a purpose knowing he has to provide for them. You can see it in the way he works, prepares and approaches the game.
Chargers.com: Damion Square is a guy the team signed in the middle of the year, and even though he was inactive on game days, was on the active roster the remainder of the season. What are you looking for out him now that he has a whole offseason to develop in this system?
Johnson: He is a physical guy. He played big time football at Alabama, and had great success doing it. He hasn’t been able to get his feet on the ground in the NFL after having a minor setback with an injury. But you can see once he got healthy what he is capable of doing. Given an opportunity, he fits our mold and you don’t find those guys very often.
Chargers.com: Can you give us a quick scouting report on defensive end Cameron Botticelli, who was signed after the draft ended?
Johnson: It is a great opportunity for Cameron, and based on what we’ve seen on tape, he has some of the attributes that we look for in a defensive lineman. Last year Tenny was that guy coming in to compete for a roster spot, so he can look at him as someone who came in and was not only on the team, but was active and played in games. Based on what he’s done in college, we were happy to bring him in.
Chargers.com: Every position group preaches versatility, but why is that so important on the defensive line?
Johnson: You have to teach it based on the number of players you have dressed on Sunday. Injuries are going to unfold over the course of the game, so you have to be able to plug in Player A to Player’s B spot, and Player B to Player C’s and so on. There are limitations to the active roster, so we may have five players active or we may have six or we may have seven. It varies from week to week, so you don’t want to be caught in a game playing someone in a position he’s never played before. So we cross train all of our players.
Chargers.com: Finally, what will you focus on specifically for the next month of the offseason program?
Johnson: We will work them together collectively, and will continue to enforce the fundamentals and techniques of the game. We want them to be in the best shape they’ve ever been in, and want them to see there is going to be competition at each position. Nothing is in concrete right now, so they will be prepared to work their tails off.