The New England Patriots have some of the best positional coaches in the NFL, with guys like offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears regarded as among the best in their leagues at their jobs. One of those top-notch coaches will be leaving the team, though, as ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss reports that linebackers coach Pepper Johnson will be leaving the team, though it is unclear if he is pursuing a new opportunity (that would be my guess, since Johnson is incredibly talented).
The Patriots first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft came in the second round, as they pulled Southern Mississippi DE/OLB Jamie Collins off of the board, but he didn’t make much of an impact until the playoffs despite a promising training camp. I’m sure the Patriots knew that Collins would be a key part of the team when they placed middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who is an impending free agent and most likely won’t be back due to Collins’s emergence, on the injured reserve. Collins played two excellent games in coverage, as a pass rusher, and even as a run defender against both the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
What does Collins’s emergence have to do with Pepper Johnson? A whole lot. A former player himself, Johnson has done an excellent job of building great linebackers in New England, and it’s clear looking at the Patriots roster that features guys like Collins, Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower that Johnson does a very good job at developing LBs. Collins’s success has been especially noteworthy, since he was a raw prospect coming out of college and quickly became a favorite of Johnson, as Johnson went out of his way to praise Collins quite often.
Johnson will be missed and said this in his farewell,
“I thank the entire New England Patriot organization for the last 13 years of my life. I am proud of all the things we have accomplished. The Kraft family is one of a kind and I will always be grateful to them and hold them in the highest regard. Bill Belichick and I have been working together in some capacity for 26 years and I am who I am because of it. To have five Super Bowl rings (two as a player, three as a coach) and all of them with Bill has been a blessing. I could never have asked for a better coach/boss/friend in those 26 years. Thanks for always supporting me and I know Bill will continue to support me no matter what.
“Thank you New England Patriot fans; I will miss you the most.”
Patriots fans will certainly miss him as well, and this has definitely been a move that has blind-sided all of us. I’m sure there is a new opportunity on the table for him, but we’ll have to see just why Johnson is leaving; right now we are all in the dark. There are some Patriots fans who even believe that Johnson should have replaced Matt Patricia as the team’s defensive coordinator, so Johnson is definitely held in high esteem.