When former Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel left the Buckeye staff to join the Houston Texans, many wondered if OSU could successfully replace such a polarizing figure.
According to its players, OSU has done just that.
Larry Johnson, who coached at Penn State from 1996-2013, has made a positive impression on the players he coaches.
“It is just a different attitude,” sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa said Thursday after practice when comparing Vrabel’s style of coaching to Johnson’s. “Their technique is all similar. He is more positive, I dare say.”
Bosa, who had a breakout freshman year in 2013 — tallying 7.5 sacks, tied for the team lead — said he responds better to Johnson’s uplifting style of coaching.
“Coach J is super positive, he is never really tearing anyone down,” Bosa said. “The coaches have been much more positive in trying to coach and make us better.”
Teammate and fellow defensive lineman, junior Adolphus Washington, agreed with Bosa and said Johnson has been encouraging the players to succeed.
“What is unique about him is that he is always a motivator. He is going to tell you what to do and he is going to show you how to do it and he is going to motivate you to do it,” Washington said. “Instead of using an angrier approach to it, he uses more of a teaching approach.”
Johnson said he wants his players to understand the love he has for football as well as showing them the right way to play.
“My deal is about passion. I want my guys to see the passion in how I coach. And that’s in my room, off the field and every area of their lives,” Johnson said. “I bring the same intensity, but I’m also teaching at the same time and getting them (to) understand my passion for the game and to feel that.”
Despite only being in Columbus for a few months — OSU officially announced Johnson as part of its staff Jan. 16 — Johnson said his players are beginning to buy into what he wants them to.
“They’ve got to trust me. I tell them all the time once they drink the Kool-Aid, we’re ready to go,” Johnson said. “Understanding 4-6 (seconds), A-B, that’s the style we’re going to play here, and once they understand my passion for that and then (I) told them the first day I got here I was going to do the best I can to reach them.”
The Buckeyes, who were thin on the defensive line last year, will look to try and develop depth, something Johnson said he is striving to achieve.
“There’s not a first group, there’s not a second group — there’s a group of guys trying to get better. And I’ve sold them on that idea that there are going to be eight, nine guys playing who compete,” Johnson said. “It’s not the guy who started the game, it’s the guys who finish the game that are going to make a difference. I think they’ve bought into that and I think that’s what’s really neat.”
Johnson wants to bring back the “Silver Bullet” mindset the OSU defense did not seem to have last year, as they gave up 38.3 points per game in their last three games, of which they lost two. He said it’s what OSU is known for, and it is what he wants to get back to.
“Great defense … I think that’s what we all feel we’re going to get back to,” Johnson said. “So it’s one focus, one fight, one team and just one idea about being the best defense in the country.”
Bosa said Johnson has mentioned the Silver Bullet mindset around the players and he is trying to develop an attitude about them.
“We watch guys that played before us and how hard they played,” Bosa said. “But again, we are focusing on playing hard and just competing against the offense.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Navy Aug. 30 at noon at M&T Bank Stadium.