Former basketball commentator and Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire once mused: "The best thing about a freshman is that he becomes a sophomore."
Irish sophomore defensive tackle Ethan Johnson blossomed late last season as a true freshman. But as the Irish dropped five of their last eight contests, the play of a talented newcomer up front was secondary to the struggles of the Irish run defense as a whole, especially down the stretch in losses to Pittsburgh, Boston College, Syracuse, and USC.
A year older, much stronger, and a year wiser, a focused Ethan Johnson is ready to help fortify the Irish run defense this fall.
Defensive Tackle Ethan Johnson
On the adjustment that new defensive linemen face entering college:
"I know I was losing my mind last year – 365 days ago. So it was pretty crazy to see Manti (Te'o), Carlo (Calabrese) and Dan (Fox), doing so much out there (on the first day of practice).
"But really there are no freshman on the D-Line that I really have to watch out for this year – if I did, I'd be feeling for them a lot, it's a tough system to learn – but even Tyler Stockton was here in the spring so he's not really gong through (typical freshman growing pains) that much anymore."
Regarding his goals for the upcoming season:
"To win as many games as we can. For me, personally, I want to get as many sacks and tackles as possible. Going into last year I didn't expect much. Going into this year I expect more, but really I just want to play well every game."
On his role now as a (probable) starter
"It's no different than last year. I go into practice everyday with something to work on. As far as in my mind (though), I can better focus on what I (specifically) need to work on, unlike as a freshman where I had to work on everything.
"I can be a lot more personal on my own technique with Coach Young and Coach Hart."
Regarding the perception that the young defensive line is the team's major question mark:
"Well Ian Williams has played two years as basically a starter. I played quite a bit last year. Mo Rich and John Ryan have been playing. It's not like guys haven't been around, but we have serious playmakers that have yet to prove themselves so just give us time and some guys will show up."
When asked if the younger guys push the older guys (a camp in which the sophomore Johnson comparatively resides):
"Competition on our D-Line? Oh yeah,a definitely, especially at (DE). Our 3-techniques (DT) too. Nose Tackle is Ian with Hafis (Williams) and Sean (Cwynar) and Brandon (Newman)…I mean, Ian will be the guy there but as far as the rotation goes (it will be heavy). We're going to rotate and its all about getting into that rotation.
"We had a pretty good rotation last year. I can't compare guys but we'll be a solid unit this year. We just have to prove ourselves right now."
Regarding my follow-up question about the experienced DE spot and his dual role as a 3-technique DT and as a DE:
"I haven't talked about it with coaches (of course) but as far as learning the (defensive) end spot – every play and every blitz that we have – yes I'm learning the end spot. I'm trying to be prepared for every game at end and at tackle. "