Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson knows Bill Belichick better than just about anybody in the NFL.
Johnson played under Belichick with the Giants in the 1980s, again with the Browns in ’93 and finished his career with the Jets in ’98 — a team for which Belichick was the defensive coordinator.
In 2000, Johnson joined Belichick once again — this time as an assistant linebackers coach with the Patriots. He was promoted to the D-line in 2004.
That unit has been talked about plenty this offseason, and for good reason: The Pats have brought in around 20 players who have experience on the line in some way, shape or form.
The reason is simple. New England wants to throw all kinds of formations at opponents this year, whether from its base 3-4 or a hybrid version of the 4-3.
So, what’s the most challenging aspect of having all those new players for Johnson?
“Bill Belichick,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what player comes out here, he wants this done, so it doesn’t matter who comes out here. ... But I’m going to get the best out of you. That’s what Coach [Belichick] expects, and that’s the reason why I’m here.”
The “only the strong survive” mentality doesn’t exactly hold true when it comes to the Pats.
A lot more of it has to do with smarts.
“Coach Belichick wants techniques taught,” Johnson said. “He wants the defense learned, and he wants to know who can learn it to the ability that they don’t need a babysitter, they don’t need someone to hold their hand while they’re out there on the football field.”