Pepper Johnson Would Be an Intriguing Candidate for Bucs

As the Bucs search for their next defensive coordinator, the case should be made for Pepper Johnson.

We all know the hot names to be the Bucs' next defensive coordinator revolves around Jim Schwartz and Mike Smith. Both coaches have extensive experience as both defensive coordinators and as head coaches.

Most Bucs fans are banging the table for Schwartz, but early rumors have him linked with the Philadelphia Eagles. As for Mike Smith, his defenses were pretty good in Jacksonville when he was defensive coordinator under Jack Del Rio, but Smith's defenses in Atlanta as head coach were laughable at times.

An intriguing name that I'd like to see the Bucs consider and interview is current Jets defensive line coach Pepper Johnson. 

After a successful 12-year career as a linebacker with the Giants, Browns, Lions, and Jets, Johnson has been an assistant coach since 2000. Johnson spent 13 years as an assistant under Bill Belichick in New England with 8 years as the team's defensive line coach and 2 more years as linebacker coach.

USA Today

Johnson left the Patriots in 2014 to join Jim Schwatz's staff in Buffalo as defensive line coach. During that season, the Bills defense led the NFL in sacks with 54 on the season. After Rex Ryan came in and removed the Bills' successful defensive staff, Johnson joined Todd Bowles in New York as the Jets defensive line coach and helped their defense reach the top ten in yards and points against in 2015.

Pepper Johnson has been a Bill Belichick guy for a long time. After playing for Belichick with the Giants and Browns, Johnson spent his first 13 years as a coach learning under Belichick in New England. That stint with the Patriots also ties Johnson to the Bucs in a big way.

Bucs GM Jason Licht spent time within the Patriots organization from 2001-2005, and then again from 2009-2011. During both of Licht's stints with the Patriots, Pepper Johnson was an assistant on the defensive staff being groomed under one of the brightest defensive minds in NFL history.

Johnson has extensive experience with both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Much like the brilliant defensive minds he has been around, my assumption is that Johnson would run a scheme that fits the personnel he has on his roster. The most likely scheme would probably be a hybrid type of defense that attacks opposing offenses on a consistent basis.

It is completely on Jason Licht and new head coach Dirk Koetter to hire the right defensive coordinator to run their defense. Both Licht's and Koetter's jobs may depend on it. I don't know if Pepper Johnson is the ideal candidate, but his resume is attractive enough to bring him in for an interview and see if he is ready to run his own defense. I just hope Koetter and Licht are willing to think outside-the-box a little bit to hire the best candidate and not just the familiar candidate for this important role.


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