Johnson stepping up at nose guard

The nose guard position is one of the more important positions within the 3-4 defense. It's a position that the defense heavily relies upon for success, but it isn't often celebrated. It's a thankless job, but a job of such importance that bad play can cause a ripple effect throughout the front seven.

That is why solidifying the position is so important, and last year Romney Fuga was the master of the nose guard position on a defense ranked third nationally. Mastering the nose guard position isn't easy, and most who are asked to play there find that out really quickly.

"If you're coming from high school, those coaches will tell you to fire off, but now you have to wait and be the second guy to react," Marques Johnson said. "The center is always moving first, but your job is to be in front of him. It's really difficult, and I mean really difficult, but I worked so hard at it over the summer. There's a sled outside that I worked on just moving, trying to be just quick, fast, quick, fast. It takes time."

Mastering the technique of two-gapping might seem like an easy concept on paper, but in a performance setting it isn't.

"People come in and they get discouraged trying to learn two-gap, but it's not two plus two, it's rocket science," said Johnson with a laugh. "It takes some time and you're not going to get it right away. I remember when I came in and I got discouraged and felt like this wasn't for me, but then I took the time to learn it and really got after it. Now it's really simple for me. I'm now used to firing off and being quick with my first step, but [also] being patient and powerful. It really helps the team out a lot."

There are various responsibilities for the nose guard, and they're based on the play calls.

"Everything is moving how I need it to happen," said Johnson. "The nose tackle is the closest one to the ball, so when the ball is snapped you're supposed to be the first person to make a move and make a play and … try and get into the backfield by beating the center. Everything is based on you at the nose tackle position.

"When you're two-gapping you have a gap that you're responsible for, so you make sure you close your gap on either the left or right side of the center, and if the ball's not there then you run and try to make the tackle downfield. Everything is systematic and you have to let the game come to you, and I feel it has."

Upon graduation, Fuga left the nose guard position vacant and in the hands of others to master. Johnson took it upon himself to be the one the defense could rely upon to take up the challenge.

"I was really focused and ate good this year and that was something on my mind," said Johnson with a laugh. "I ate all the good food, you know, all the things I didn't want to eat, and then came up here twice a day to do some extra running. Coach Omer even had to tell me not to run so much and to tone it down a bit. I just wanted to be ready for fall camp. I know playing nose guard is a big role and I don't like to crumble under pressure. I look at that role as a challenge and like to take it on. I know they're expecting me to be that guy so I knew I needed to step up and take on that challenge."

Johnson worked on getting stronger, quicker and faster, which will aid him in his response time upon the snap of the ball.

"I met with the nutritionist and I wanted to lose a lot of my body fat," said Johnson. "I wanted to gain a lot of muscle and got a lot stronger and so much quicker. We had the 10- and 20-yard shuttle test. It's like at the combine test where they test your speed to the 10 and then the 20. My time last year was like 2.07, and this year I dropped it down to 1.79, so it just dropped down drastically and I'm excited for next summer where I can work out even harder. I know everything I'm doing right now is going to help the team."

The nose guard position is not at full strength right now due to some injuries.

"Our depth at nose tackle is sort of wearing thin for fall camp," said Johnson. "Tuni Kanuch has a slight shoulder ding, JonRyheem Peoples has an ankle he's dealing with, and our numbers are kind of dwindling. But that hasn't stopped Bronco from working us hard, so he moved Eathyn Manumaleuna over to nose to increase our numbers. Meti [Taliauli] is out there and he's learning, but he's learning in a hard way. We watch film on how things are done and how they want it done. Then we try and emulate that. We're moving in the right direction of how the defensive nose tackle was in the past."

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