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Pepper Johnson big on Albert Haynesworth

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1 Pepper Johnson big on Albert Haynesworth on Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:24 pm


FOXBORO — The fortunes of the Patriots [team stats] defense, and by extension the team’s Super Bowl hopes, very well could rest in the hands of one man.

His name? Pepper Johnson.

His assignment? Albert Haynesworth.

While Bill Belichick is the overall sheriff in town, trying to get the players to buy into his way, deputy Johnson is overseeing the project that is Haynesworth.

He’s the position coach who has to deal with the temperamental defensive tackle every day. He’s the one who sees him in defensive line meetings and up close and personal in practice. More than anyone else in the organization, Johnson is the man who has been entrusted with getting something out of a guy who gave nothing to Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan.

Make it work, and the Patriots defense could go from being one of the worst in the league on third down to one of the best. That’s how dominant Haynesworth can be up front. That’s how much better he can make a defensive line, and by extension, a pass rush.

From what we’ve seen, which isn’t much given Haynesworth hasn’t been on the field since Aug. 4, Johnson and Big Al have hit it off. They’ve established an early rapport. When Haynesworth was out at practice, he was at Johnson’s side constantly.

Listening to Johnson yesterday, he already has Haynesworth’s back. He said he doesn’t know why Haynesworth has such a bad rap. Or rather, the coach doesn’t care. He’s just trying to coach up a football player. He’d even argue about the description of Haynesworth being “temperamental” or needing motivation.

“I’m not much on reading the newspapers, so I don’t know that much about him,” Johnson said yesterday. “You hear rumors, of course. But before he came into the door, that’s when a lot of people were telling me, ‘Hey, he must be some guy that’s hard to deal with.’ But I’m born and raised in Detroit, so, I don’t know if there are too many people that would be hard for me to deal with.

“I’m not a person who sits up and judges. The Albert Haynesworth that came through the door and shook my hand and started talking to me, that’s the person I’m dealing with. His past is his past.”

Now, that’s probably music to Haynesworth’s ears. Johnson essentially has given him a clean slate. He’s not looking at Haynesworth’s rap sheet with the police, or his poor behavior with coaches or people in general. He gets a fresh start on Johnson’s defensive line.

Who knows? Maybe in coaching/psychology circles, that’s the way to go.

Let’s remember, too, Johnson has aspirations of moving up the coaching ladder, perhaps into a coordinator’s job, so keeping Haynesworth in line could be a nice feather in his cap.

Of course, Johnson doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the 6-foot-6, 335-pound disrupter, who reworked his mega-contract following his trade from Washington. Given Johnson’s background, his stature — he’s practically Haynesworth’s size — and what he did as a player with the New York Giants, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The bottom line is what matters here. And if Johnson can keep Haynesworth’s head in the program, that’s the ticket. The defensive line coach claimed the Haynesworth he’s gotten to know in a few weeks isn’t like what’s been portrayed in the media before he arrived here.

At first, Johnson even wondered what he might be getting himself into, but Haynesworth has been a rather pleasant fellow thus far.

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2 Re: Pepper Johnson big on Albert Haynesworth on Mon Aug 15, 2011 8:24 pm


“Albert is a great guy. It’s kind of hard to see some of the things that you hear that are negative about him coming from that person,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it’s me, but some of the stuff is just not . . . you need to know both sides of the story. I think Albert is a great person. He’s been trying to work his way out on the field, and he’s been tremendous in the classroom (to) date. I’m expecting a lot from him.”

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