ALAMEDA – Derrick Johnson joined the Raiders relatively late. Teammates had a head start learning new schematics when the veteran middle linebacker signed with silver and black, creating a viable excuse why Johnson would be behind this spring.
The four-time Pro Bowler didn’t want to use it. Not his style.
Johnson also understood the Raiders brought him here to lead this defense on the field. His resume with the Kansas City Chiefs gave Johnson street cred. Becoming quickly versed in the Raiders defense would validate it.
That’s why Johnson didn’t celebrate after signing with the Raiders. He immersed himself in Paul Guenther’s scheme.
“My abilities come out when I know what’s going on; for me to know what’s going on I have to gear down,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “You don’t want to rush it, but really, thoroughly get it down and make sure I have Paul Guenther’s defense really down, so I can start moving some pieces here and there. Start helping some guys out if they’re iffy on some things and telling certain guys what to do at sometimes.
“That’s not a bad pressure (to master the scheme quickly), that’s a positive pressure for me. That’s one of those things where this is what I’ve been doing for a long time in KC. I’m used to telling different guys what to do.”
The input is welcome. The Raiders have lacked stability at middle linebacker, save midseason respite from Perry Riley Jr. and NaVorro Bowman, respectively, the last two years.
Johnson made his presence felt quickly in OTAs, and has earned rave reviews from his coaching staff. He demands accountability in practice, and is active in meetings. Such command is only allowed, however, with the scheme down.
“He has picked it up real quick,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s able to get us in and out of defenses. When you’re at that point, the guy has been here for what, two to three weeks now and he’s able to really understand what we’re trying to get to. To have a veteran piece that can kind of control the show out there is a big, important part for me.”
Learning new terminology is the toughest part, but Johnson believes he has consistently improved during this spring in Alameda.
That has allowed Johnson to quickly assume a leadership role.
“This Raider team really respects me; really respects me,” Johnson said. “Once I say something, they kind of get it. My style isn’t too aggressive. It’s not that guy that’s in their face. I’m a big guy of lead by example, of course. But at times you have to speak up. You have to let them know what you’re thinking. You have to demand some things at times. Everybody is different, with different personalities. You can’t talk to everybody the same. I have to talk to (second-year pro) Nick Morrow different than (veteran) Bruce Irvin. It’s just a different type of deal.”
Johnson has gravitated toward veterans that litter the roster, especially fellow first-team linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lamur. He has also taken Morrow under wing, helping the coverage linebacker find his way after a promising rookie year.
Johnson feels comfortable with his new team after 13 seasons in Kansas City. He fits in well with the coaching staff and a scheme that heaps responsibility on its middle linebacker.
“Man, Paul Guenther’s defense, it’s very aggressive,” Johnson said. “There are so many different looks. The onus is really on the linebackers to learn a lot of stuff. That’s good for myself because I know a lot. It’s putting a lot of pressure on me to learn it quickly. Learn it well enough where I can put my own flavor in making plays on this defense.
“I’m having fun with it now. The last couple of days have been my best days, running around. I was telling the young guys this, once you get the system down… you’ll look a lot faster out there on the field. We all can run fast and jump high, but mentally, once you got it down, all your abilities, your talents can show out there on the field. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”