Pepper Johnson had no choice but to speak, and he made it clear that he wasn’t happy about it.
“I think it’s all a waste of time, but I have to come here. So I’m just fulfilling my obligation,” the Jets defensive line coach told reporters Monday, a week after he blew off questions about his position group.
Johnson admitted coach Todd Bowles had forced him to talk to the media. But he refused to address Bowles’ decision to bench defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson for a quarter against the Dolphins on Nov. 6 for being late to a meeting. “You know I’m going to pass on that,” Johnson said, referring to Bowles’ discipline and Wilkerson’s reported issue with tardiness. “It’s a matter to take up with that guy.”
Johnson instead spoke glowingly about his defensive line, which is tied for 22nd with 19 sacks. “They’re playing very well. These guys made me defensive line coach of the year last season,” he said, referring to an award from ProFootballFocus.com. “I think they’re doing better this year.”
Collectively, the Jets (3-7) have underperformed this season, but Johnson wasn’t interested in hearing about the lack of production from his unit.
“I don’t look at stats,” he said, when asked why he believes his line is playing “better” this season. “It’s what I’m asking for them to do, what we’re trying to get accomplished in the game of football. This is the same crew that got me awards last year, and I don’t see them doing anything different.”
Wilkerson, who signed a five-year, $86-million deal in July, has 2.5 sacks in nine games. Richardson has 1.5, but he’s also been asked to line up at outside and middle linebacker. Second-year lineman Leonard Williams has been the most dynamic of the group, registering six sacks, twice his 2015 total.
“It’s hard to be happy about our individual room or happy about a certain player when you’ve just won three games,” Johnson said, though he also defended the group against criticism.
“People are playing us different, which is smart for them. I would play us different if I were running somebody’s offense. They don’t want to get attacked by these guys. That’s what’s going on. I have to understand the game. I’ve been around it for 30 years.”
Good teams typically adjust to that sort of thing, but Johnson acknowledged it’s easier said than done. “It’s hard,” he said. “It’s hard for the position that I coach. It’s easy to take the defensive line out of the game. You can throw passes quicker. You can run the ball outside away from us.”
Ross back again. The organization re-signed WR/KR Jeremy Ross and waived LB Taiwan Jones. Ross joined the Jets in April as an unrestricted free-agent signee and was one of the final roster cuts in September when the team chose to keep all three of its rookie receivers. After Ross was re-signed Sept. 29, he was released Oct. 11.