ETHAN JOHNSON, DE, 6-4, 265, Portland(Lincoln)OR
At the beginning of each recruiting cycle I, as well as any other Notre Dame football fans, look over the long list of big time national prospects. We then develop a "wish list" of players we'd like to see the Irish land. With the commitment of Ethan Johnson to the Fighting Irish I am happy to say that even my "wish list" wasn't as good as the class that Notre Dame actually put together. The commitment of Johnson provides this recruiting class with the elite "name" along the defensive front that it was missing. He is a five star prospect and Scout's No. 24 overall player. This is a huge pickup for the Fighting Irish on and off the football field. Notre Dame went out west and beat USC and Michigan for an elite player that both schools coveted.
Johnson has a very solid and strong lower body. His good arm length will allow him to keep offensive linemen at bay as he battles, disengages, and makes plays on the football. At 6'4 and over 260 pounds Johnson has the perfect build for one of the defensive end spots in the new Notre Dame defensive configuration. The Portland, Oregon native will need to develop his body and continue to improve his level of conditioning.
The linemen in the Notre Dame defense have to be strong at the point of attack. They will need to be powerful football players. Johnson is that kind of player. He is a powerful young man with a strong lower body. That is very important for a 3-4 defensive end. It allows him to play with a solid base, take on blocks, hold their ground, and create havoc for the offense. Johnson also has a tremendous first step. This has been widely talked about and is his best physical attribute. When he is right he is lightning fast off the football. He is a very explosive young man. Johnson is more quick than he is fast but does have decent straight line speed for a player of his size.
One thing line coaches love to talk about and see is a guy's "motor". Does he play hard? Does he play to the whistle? If he knocks a guy down will he just lie on the guy or get up and go find someone else to hit? Yes, yes, and the latter are the answers with regards to the game of Ethan Johnson. This young man plays very hard, gives maximum effort, and plays to the football. What this means is that he is always looking to find the football. Whether he is chasing or engaged with a blocker his eyes are always looking for the football. Even when Johnson gets beat off the line his effort and strength will allow him to eventually win the battle or at least make a play on the ball. Johnson also has very quick and powerful hands. When he shoots right he really knocks the blockers back with force.
Johnson isn't the shiftiest guy on the field. At times he appears a little stiff in the hips. As he matures and begins preparing for his freshman year in college he will need to improve his footwork and his lateral quickness. As I will discuss in the technique portion he isn't as consistent as he will need to be. What usually happens is his feet stop moving. Once that happens the rest of his technique suffers. I have to remind myself he's only a junior in high school on this film. I'm confident as he continues to work with his defensive line coach, as he continues to mature physically, and as he continues to develop his game you will see this corrected.
One of the most overused but necessary cliche terms regarding lineman is his "pad level". I grow tired of reading, hearing, and using this expression but have yet to find a better way to put it. Johnson plays with good pad level. He is able to come off the ball in great position to engage the blocker as the low man. He uses his strength and leverage to really blow up his opponent. As he wears down Johnson will begin to come off a bit high and stops his feet. As his conditioning improves so will his technique. The Lincoln star has great hands. He shoots quickly, keeps his hands in great position, and is very strong. This allows him to use the moves I'll discuss later to beat blockers time and again. His quickness and strength of the hands is his second greatest asset behind his great burst off at the snap. Where Johnson must improve is his consistency with all of his techniques. Although he is advanced for a high school junior he'll need to get better into his senior year and then into his freshman year of college. When he does it right he is almost impossible to block one on one.
VS. THE RUN
Defending the run right now is the strength of Johnson's game. He is very stout against the run. He has the strength and technique to dominate the run game from the end position as well as a tackle. He will be difficult to defend one on one against the run. When he comes off the ball with good technique he is impossible to move back. The 265 pounder is very stout at the point of attack. He uses his great lower body strength to win one on one battles. He shows very good leg drive and extension. Johnson is able to keep his eyes in the backfield, finds the ball carrier, and is able to quickly shed the blocker and make plays. Johnson is also a very good tackler. On most occasions he takes great angles to the ball carrier, comes to balance, and wraps up the ball carrier. If he is able to get a head of steam he blows people up. You don't see him miss many tackles.
At times Johnson will come off too fast with a forward lean, loses his balance, and will overshoot the ball carrier. Even when this occurs he is missing in the backfield which puts the running back off track and the play is in trouble. But this will need to improve. One weakness Johnson possesses is against teams who cut block him all day. He doesn't do a great job yet of shedding that kind of block. Again, he is a junior in high school. This will improve, but as this continues he will get frustrated and lose his technique.
VS. THE PASS
I like to use examples of well known football players when doing evaluations. What I am not doing is trying to say a high school player is going to be a NFL All-Pro or Hall of Famer. What I am trying to do is give you an idea of the kind of game a player possesses. When I watch Ethan Johnson I think of a mix between Michael Strahan and Reggie White. Johnson is similar in build to those players. He also possesses the great first step that makes Strahan so effective as a pass rusher. The comparison to White comes from his powerful moves. Johnson uses basically two moves right now. He will use a quick swim move and he will club guys. When he uses his club he knocks lineman back and off balance and then charges past them. White was the master of this. Right now Ethan is more effective rushing the passer from the inside. He will need to develop more pass moves and develop his repertoire from the outside when Notre Dame is rushing from a four man front. He isn't as strong coming off the edge as he is from the tackle position or in a five technique. Again, he is a high school junior. This is to be expected at this stage in his career. Johnson closes in on quarterbacks very quickly. He eats up a ton of space and really blows up the protection and is in the quarterbacks face as he gets to the top of his drop.
Ethan Johnson was born to be a defensive end in the 3-4 defense. When you read the various discussions about him there is debate whether he is a defensive end or a defensive tackle. In the Notre Dame defense he'll be a defensive end. His game suits this position perfectly. While he has some work to do getting in better shape, developing his game, and being more consistent Johnson just oozes talent and potential. His bets football is absolutely in front of him. He should be able to come in as a freshman and at least challenge for playing time. Johnson is going to keep getting better and better. If he is able to develop as an edge rusher out of a four man look his game will be complete. This is the perfect way for the Fighting Irish to top off their defensive line recruiting.