Since Hue Jackson was named the Cleveland Browns’ new head coach earlier this year, retired NFL receiver Chad Johnson has wanted to be a part of his staff in some capacity. In March, he Tweeted at the Browns’ official account whether he could assist the receivers, and apparently received no response.
But Johnson wasn’t deterred by the Browns’ radio silence, again lobbying the Browns and Jackson last week to serve as a “route running specialist,” when the team’s training camp opens later this month.
Johnson’s wish has apparently been granted, with the former receiver joining retired Cleveland running back Earnest Byner as an aid in camp—“no cleats, just knowledge,” Tweeted Johnson—to help the young receiving corps better understand the fundamentals of their position.
Three of Johnson’s most productive years with the Cincinnati Bengals came in Jackson’s time as the team’s receivers coach, from 2004 through 2006, a period in which Johnson and Jackson became extremely close. Johnson said of the coach in January, “I can speak from a personal perspective and a player’s perspective as well. You get more than just a coach. Hue Jackson is a gem. He was a gem for me and I am speaking a gem, g-e-m… That is one of the reasons why I pin all of my success through his tenure with me. It is all due to him.”
Though it may seem like some sort of Johnson-style publicity stunt, something he’s been connected to in the past, this is a real invite that has been extended to a multi-time Pro Bowler who can actually bring something to the table in Cleveland. While not a permanent coaching position, the knowledge that Johnson can impart on the Browns’ receiving corps could prove invaluable.
The Browns drafted four receivers this year as well as a pass-catching tight end in Seth DeValve. While Marlon Moore is the most veteran of the group, he’s caught only seven passes in his two years in Cleveland. Terrelle Pryor is only a year into his transition from quarterback to wideout. Indeed, just Andrew Hawkins has had significant starting NFL experience among the team’s 11 receivers. That’s a lot of coaching-up being asked of Jackson, Pep Hamilton and Al Saunders; Johnson’s extra hands, eyes and football acumen is certainly a welcome addition.
One may point to Johnson’s failure to learn a new playbook and system in New England in 2011, his dismissal from the Dolphins the following year or his recent season-long suspension by the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes as signs that Johnson is not actually suited for a leadership role in Cleveland’s camp this summer. But remember: These were all situations in which Johnson was out of his comfort zone; he spent 10 years with the Bengals learning, internalizing and perfecting one way to do his job. And that one way is more that likely the same thing that Jackson and his staff has been installing with the Browns’ offense during the offseason. Johnson is coming in to help teach what he knows best.
Crisp route-running and learning the nuances of getting open against numerous coverage techniques are two skills that young NFL receivers struggle with in the beginnings of their careers. It’s a reason why there is a significant learning curve from the collegiate game to the NFL for even the most productive NCAA receivers. These are skills that Johnson honed and practiced and are how he made himself into a household name for a decade. If he can impart that wisdom on these young Browns receivers and even make a slight impact, the players will be much better for it.
Johnson has a colorful past, to be sure, but when it comes to the business of football, he’s incredibly professional. Further, he has a massive amount of respect for Jackson, which means that Johnson will be working hard, not just having fun (and also, the two are not mutually exclusive; all work and no play makes football teams bitter). There is no reason for the Browns to not try numerous creative approaches to getting their players ready for the season; Johnson is just one of many, though certainly a bit more higher-profile than others. And it’s another move the Browns have made that can only help the team in 2016.null