BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills continued reconstructing their defensive coaching staff Friday by announcing the hires of Pepper Johnson as defensive line coach and Fred Pagac as linebackers coach.
Both hires were first reported earlier Friday by CoachingSearch.com.
Johnson joins the Bills after 14 seasons as a member of the New England Patriots’ defensive coaching staff. He was the team’s defensive line coach for eight years (2004-2011) before moving to linebackers coach for the previous two seasons.
Pagac comes to the Bills after spending the last eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, including one season as defensive coordinator (2011).
Johnson and Pagac are both alumni of The Ohio State University. Both men played for the Buckeyes before going on to NFL playing careers, and Pagac, who started his coaching career as a member of OSU’s defensive staff for 23 years, actually coached Johnson during his Buckeyes career.
Pagac replaces Jim O’Neil, who left his post as Bills linebackers coach to become the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns after Buffalo’s defensive coordinator from last season, Mike Pettine, was hired as Browns head coach.
Johnson replaces Anthony Weaver, who is no longer listed as a member of the Bills coaching staff. Having interviewed earlier this week with the Browns, who have not yet hired a defensive line coach, Weaver could be in line to become the fifth member of Buffalo’s 2013 coaching staff to be hired by Cleveland.
Pagac and Johnson join defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, quarterbacks coach Todd Downing and senior offensive assistant Jim Hostler as new members of the Buffalo Bills coaching staff for 2014. Schwartz (former head coach) and Downing were previously with the Detroit Lions, while Hostler moved on from the Baltimore Ravens.
One of the league’s most well-regarded defensive position coaches, Johnson will have the opportunity to work with one of the league’s most talented defensive lines, led by Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Coming from a Patriots staff known for its ability to develop talent, Johnson’s most important role might come in molding the depth behind that trio, which will likely include some younger players for 2014.
Johnson has experience working with a plethora of defensive fronts from his time with the Patriots, which should be an asset to the Bills’ expected transition process from a 3-4-based defense to a 4-3-based scheme under Schwartz.
Pagac also brings a wealth of coaching experience to a young Buffalo linebacker corps. He could play a key role in the continued development of Kiko Alonso, who immediately emerged as the unit’s leader as a rookie in 2013. The Bills have a solid veteran starting strongside linebacker in Manny Lawson, but could feature another rookie playing alongside Alonso as a middle/weakside linebacker, as the Bills need to upgrade that position and their overall run defense.
With the additions of Johnson and Pagac to the staff, Buffalo’s coaching staff might finally be just about set for the 2014 season. Having lost six members of last year’s staff but added five, their lone remaining vacancy will likely go to a quality control assistant to replace Brian Fleury, who also went to the Browns along with former Bills inside linebackers Chuck Driesbach and Jeff Hafley, who was hired by the Bills as a defensive assistant Jan. 16 but left for Cleveland less than two weeks later.