State of the Hogs: Taver Johnson

Paul Haynes gets plenty from Taver Johnson. The linebackers coach always a "treat" to watch at practice.

The question to Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes was simple. Is he getting enough out of Taver Johnson?

It wasn't serious. Haynes paused for a split second. That's about all it took for him to get it.

The answer will always be a resounding yes. Taver Johnson, the UA linebackers coach and assistant head coach, is always going to give enough.

That's whether you are asking his young children, usually playing football on the sidelines at practice, or Haynes. You can see daughter Brooklynn hurtling her body into a tackling dummy or Tyree booting a football as the Hogs toil about any day.

I chuckled when I heard Tyree at practice Monday. He told his mother, "Look, mom, there's Dad and there's Uncle Paul."

And Taver Johnson's children also probably recognized another familiar face at UA practices last week when former Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock was quietly walking behind drills.

There's nothing quiet about Johnson, or low key. Johnson's Razorback ball cap is generally soaked in sweat, like it was Tuesday even on a cool morning. I don't mean a little bit of sweat. The entire hat, the bill included, was a dark red.

Johnson -- after serving as interim head coach in the spring -- explodes after almost every play.

There was an instant during the middle of Tuesday's workout when he was pleased with some stops by the defense. They had confounded the first offense, perhaps producing a pair of three-and-out possessions -- except there wasn't any tackling or down markers.

Johnson turned to the sideline where the twos were standing silent, to his dismay. He wanted some verbal support for the good work by the first defense.

"Haven't heard a word from you guys," Johnson hollered. "That's five stops by those guys. Let them hear you."

Then he turned back towards the action on the field. He yelled, "Play your keys! Play your keys!"

If I've heard that once in these last 15 practices of fall camps, I've heard it five hundred times. Sometimes it's Johnson, sometimes it's Haynes.

Keys and technique, that's what they preach. They say that's how it was at Ohio State with Heacock, their mentor. Haynes coached the safeties, Johnson the cornerbacks.

Haynes and Johnson were together the last five seasons. Haynes was under Heacock seven years. Heacock retired after last season at Ohio State. To no one's surprise who knows the relationship between the three, Haynes had Heacock in camp all of last week to give him his assessment of the progress he's made with the UA defense.

Heacock had been defensive coordinator the last seven years at Ohio State and coached the defensive front for 15 years, sending 25 linemen to the NFL.

"I wanted to have him in here in the spring, but it didn't work out," Haynes said. "I just think he knows so much and is so good at looking at personnel.

"He taught me and Coach Johnson. We both learned so much about this defense from him. He's outstanding.

"I wanted him to sit around and watch us, look at tape. I wanted his opinion on what we were doing, if it was sound. And I wanted him to look at our personnel and tell me if we had them at the right spots. Those were the big things."

Haynes said he remembers the early days on Heacock's defensive staff. Luke Fickel, now Ohio State's defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, was also a young assistant.

"It was Taver, Luke and me, a bunch of young bulls running around," Haynes said. "Coach Heacock just said, ‘Slow down. Be sound. Always be sound.' And we were."

So did Heacock think everyone was in the right spots? Are the Hogs sound on defense?

"Yeah, he said we were," Haynes said. "I wanted to know what changes he thought we should make early in camp. He liked it all."

Johnson is in the right spot coaching linebackers. That was his college position, where he coached in the NFL. He's in his element dripping in sweat as he grabs freshmen Otha Peters or A. J. Turner. It appears he's quickly developing depth at a position once thought to be dangerously thin. With Tenarius Wright and Alonzo Highsmith injured for much of the first two weeks of camp, it gave some of the backups and freshmen plenty of practice time with Johnson and will pay dividends this season.

It's all high energy stuff. Energy drips off Johnson, just like the sweat on his cap. Back to the opening question to Haynes from Tuesday, is he getting enough from Johnson?

"I'm used to him," Haynes smiled. "I just let him go. But what you see now isn't even close to what he'll be right before a game. That would be a treat for you guys."

As Haynes left the interview room, he returned to that opening thought.

"I think we need to get you guys (in the media) some access in the locker room before a game," he said. "Taver goes to another level. Like I said, Taver is a treat."

Johnson met with the media after practice Thursday. Asked about Haynes' comments about his enthusiasm before games, Johnson turned the tables.

"I do get excited, but Coach Haynes gets excited, too," he said. "I think I'm just like any coach. The games are what we live for. I've been living for the games since about the sixth grade."

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