Saturday, 6:55 a.m. (Eagles camp, Bethlehem, Pa.) You know how corny it sounds when someone dies and those closest to him say, "He'd have wanted us to go on and live our normal lives,'' or some such? That's the message from one of Johnson's best friends in a Lehigh University dormitory early this morning.
"If Jim knew we were all talking about him like this, he'd be chewing us all out, and I can guarantee you that,'' said Eagles coach Andy Reid. "Jim was all about the game. He was, to us, what we all wanted to be as coaches. No ego. Great teacher. Always open to new ideas. A strategist. Could look into the future and see the game. Every year he changed a little. Not only a zest for football, but a zest for life.''
I asked everyone I met during the week who might have something to say about Johnson -- a private man but not a rude one -- what kind of legacy Johnson leaves on football. The temptation is to say pressure, pressure, pressure. But one of his best friends, Washington defensive coordinator Greg Blache, said it was something more.
"He was the ultimate problem-solver,'' Blache said. "If there was a hole in your bucket, he was like water. He'd find it. There will be a generation of coaches now who will study what Jim did because he got pressure and was sound behind that pressure. That's hard to do.''
"At his essence,'' said Brad Childress, his old office partner with the Eagles, "he was about pressure. And different pressures. You know, quarterbacks can say they like to face the blitzes because it gives them a chance to make plays. But I can guarantee you very, very few liked the kind of chin music Jim Johnson sent their way.''
I remember watching the Giants-Eagles game in December next to Cris Collinsworth at NBC. The Eagles won 20-14. After getting gashed for 219 rushing yards in the first meeting of the year, Philly held New York and massive back Brandon Jacobs to 88 yards. And that's what won the game for the Eagles. Johnson moved Brian Dawkins down in the box as almost a fourth linebacker. Quick pass rush be damned. "We were going to be the more physical team out there today,'' he told me afterward. Johnson usually got what he wanted.
Saturday, 11 a.m. (Eagles camp) In practice this morning, new cornerback Ellis Hobbs -- acquired for two fifth-round picks from New England on draft day -- deflected a long ball down the left side away from a receiver and exulted, pumping his arms and exciting the crowd. "That's the first time I celebrated with pure emotion in a long time,'' said Hobbs. "In New England, they believe in keeping your emotions down. It zaps the life out of you. I remember standing on the sidelines in my first playoff game, home against Jacksonville, and getting all excited and I'm jumping around, and I feel this touch on my shoulders. I was told, 'Calm down.' I'm thinking, 'Wow, my first playoff game. Let's enjoy it.' But that's not the way it's done there.''
Hobbs wasn't happy about his contract, and he saw the Pats draft Darius Butler from UConn in the second round, and he knew it was over. Funny thing is, he's not bitter at the Patriots, even though he might sound as if he is. He's happy he had the chance to play there.
"I respect Bill as a coach more than anyone I've met,'' Hobbs said. "Bill was so smart. He went about it like the team we're playing is a building. You don't just throw a bomb at the building; it has to be strategically placed. Like against Dallas a couple of years ago. Everyone's analyzing the game and saying, 'We've got to stop T.O. to win.' Bill said to us that the key to the game for Dallas was [tight end Jason] Witten, not T.O. You stop Witten, you stop Dallas. We did, and we won.
"Early in my career, Bill called me into his office, and we sat there -- for a long time -- studying film. He taught me to look for the simple things, and not to make football so complicated. I got better. I realize I was with one of the best coaches of all time, and he helped me become a better player.''
Sunday, 3:25 p.m. (Steelers camp, Latrobe, Pa.) And now for something completely different -- Mike Shanahan on the sidelines of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. The sight was so strange on Saturday that defensive player of the year James Harrison went over to coach Mike Tomlin early in practice and said something like, Hey, you aren't going to let the Broncos coach in to watch our practice, are you? News travels slowly up here, I guess.
Shanahan, traveling with his presumptive defensive coordinator of the future, Bob Slowik, will visit five teams for three or four days apiece this summer, the one year he'll be away from coaching. From here he goes to New England, Houston, Arizona and the University of Florida, where he'll get his first close look at Urban Meyer's spread.
Oh, Shanahan will be back in coaching in 2010. You can be sure of that. Until then, he'll study programs and sites. Here, he loves the Pittsburgh 3-4, the underrated defensive ends and the absolute flat-line qualities Pittsburgh has as a franchise. On the field with Slowik before this afternoon's practice, Shanahan was eating up the sights and traditions of the Steelers. "You look at things that are important for a franchise, and continuity is right up there. They've had three coaches [since 1969], and what teams have been more successful? No one. The whole staff's been intact on defense, I think for six years or more. They've won six Super Bowls. Then you look around this place. Beautiful. And it's all Steelers. Players can walk from their dorm to practice to film study to the dining hall. I think it has to be the best camp sites in the league, doesn't it? All of it adds up."
The week ahead: Jets today, Giants on Tuesday, then Vikes, Chiefs, the Hall of Fame and the Browns on Sunday. Let's get after it.
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