VAUGHT: Johnson can learn from Kirkland

When Mike Archer was trying to help convince Micah Johnson to sign with Kentucky, he took one approach that other recruiters couldn't have used. The UK defensive coordinator took Pittsburgh Steelers game film with him to show Johnson how he used All-Pro linebacker Levon Kirkland when he was the assistant coach with the Steelers.

"I told him this was a guy who was 290 on a good day. He might have been heavier. I never weighed him. To this day, I don't know what he weighed. That was between him and (coach) Bill (Cowher)," Archer said. "What I tried to do was show Micah things you can do when you are a big, physical guy. Levon was a freak of nature. As big as he was, he could cover tight ends down the middle and running backs man to man. They don't come along like that very often."

Kirkland not only earned All-Pro honors, he was named to the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. Archer showed Johnson blitzes the Steelers used to get Kirkland pressuring the quarterback. "Now every time we put in a blitz, Micah will say, ‘Is that the blitz you showed me from the Steelers?' He doesn't quite have it like Levon yet. We ran it four times at the scrimmage Saturday and it didn't quite look like the same blitz the Steelers used," Archer said.

Some skeptics wonder if the 258-pound Johnson is too big, and slow, to play middle linebacker. Kirkland often heard the same comments during his playing career.

"I think it is tremendous that he wants to play middle linebacker," Kirkland said when told Johnson had watched him play. "I felt like I was a good player, but you never know the impact have on people. I had guys in pros, especially my last year in Philadelphia, come to me and tell me they really enjoyed the way I played.

"A lot of times people say you are too little to play a position, but a lot of times they say you are too big, too. If you are an athlete, you are an athlete. If you can move and play, you can play. Sometimes God makes you special. He could be one of those guys. He's just a big guy that happens to play middle linebacker, but that doesn't mean he cannot play it well."

Kirkland says playing for Archer already gives Johnson, UK's top recruit last year, an advantage because Archer doesn't use measurements to determine who plays where.

"Coach Archer understands players. He had me for a while and I thought I played pretty well. A lot of times people want to put you in a square. He will understand that and let the kid play," Kirkland said. "Mike is a very smart guy and has been around the profession long enough to understand that everybody is not going to be 6-2, 225. We are all not sleek guys. People are different. He understands as long as this guy gets the job done, he can be asset.

"A lot of times playing linebacker, you are taking on guards and tackles. He is going to probably be special because he will be big enough to stop the running game. A lot of people can't do that. When I was in the pros, that's what I did. I pretty well neutralized the running game and covered tight ends. If he understands not to worry about naysayers and do his job, he will be fine."

Archer agrees. He says Johnson is still learning to take on 300-pound linemen after "crushing" smaller opponents in high school. "It's a whole new world here and you have to use proper technique. But when you are big and strong enough, you can do amazing things. That's what Levon could do. He would go up and take on tackles, guards and centers and just make plays. That's what this kid (Johnson) is capable of as well when he has time to learn everything. I'm not saying he'll be Levon Kirkland, but he could be very, very unique."

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