What Will Pepper Johnson Bring to Buffalo? Q&A with NEPatriotsDraft’s Mike Loyko

BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot

Mike Loyko, who covers the New England Patriots for NE Patriots Draft, recently took the time to share his thoughts with Buffalo Bills Draft on new Buffalo defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. Johnson spent the past fourteen years on New England’s coaching staff as assistant linebackers coach (2000), inside linebackers coach (2001-03), defensive line coach (2004-11) and most recently, linebackers coach (2012-13).

1. How much of a surprise was it that Pepper Johnson left the Patriots after the season?

Loyko: It wasn’t a huge shock. He been passed over a number of times and most people assumed if he wanted to ever become a coordinator or advance up the ladder it’s probably best to move on. Going to Buffalo was a bigger surprise because he has no ties to the coaches or organization.

(Editor’s Note: Johnson told WGR’s John Murphy he left the Patriots “to get up from under the shadow of Coach Belichick.”)

2. In your opinion, how would Pepper Johnson have fared as Patriots defensive coordinator if he had been chosen over Matt Patricia in 2012?

Loyko: It’s tough to say. Pepper has been with Bill Belichick for 14+ years now, and there had to be a reason he got passed over. Personally, I don’t think Belichick trusted him to call plays and design defenses. 

3. Johnson is taking over as Buffalo’s defensive line coach. How was Johnson in this role with the Patriots from 2004-2011?

Loyko: It’s always tough to analyze this. The Patriots were very well-blessed at these positions during those years and with Belichick, everything runs though him. I don’t think he made them any better or any worse. I do think the players really loved him, and he is a very good motivator. As an X’s and O’s guy, it’s my intuition that he lacks there a little bit. 

4. How do you think Johnson will do with Buffalo’s defensive line? That is one spot where Buffalo has plenty of talent.

Loyko: I think Pepper’s greatest influence will be his motivation and personality. He should get along very well with those guys. As he said in his interview (Tuesday), Pepper Johnson has never heard the Bills defensive terminology before so it will probably be a bit of a learning curve. It’s going to be interesting to see how he does away from BB.

5. How is Johnson on the sidelines? Jim Schwartz and Fred Pagac are both intense coaches. Is Johnson cut from the same cloth or more laid back during games?

Loyko: Johnson is one of the more enthusiastic and energetic coaches on the sidelines. He used to chest bump and get hyped up with the guys before his knee surgeries. He’s definitely not a laid-back, quiet guy.

Overall, it’s an interesting hire. I certainly don’t believe it adds and wins or losses to either team. But, a change of scenery was probably best for Johnson.