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Arizona Cardinals Coaching Staff: Don Johnson brings experience and leadership

The Cardinals brought in a veteran defensive line coach to pair with their young head coach and defensive coordinator.

San Diego Chargers 2011 Headshots Photo by NFL via Getty Images

Yesterday we started to work our way through the new Arizona Cardinals coaching staff. Getting to know each coach, what their background is and who they have worked with.

It tells a story of the staff and will let us know what we can expect moving forward, especially with so much change occurring on the defensive side of the ball.

Don Johnson is the new defensive line coach, taking over for the beloved Brentson Buckner.

Johnson’s history in the NFL is expansive, but it has wholly been on working with defensive lineman.

He started in 2005 with the Chicago Bears.

That season the Bears went 11-5 and were known for their defense. Johnson was a big reason for that, helping the Bears 4-3 defense to the number one scoring defense in the NFL. Johnson also helped former first round pick to his first of three Pro Bowls, two under Johnson’s tutelage. Johnson returned in 2006 when the Bears went to the Super Bowl and the Bears defensive line rotation was menacing, and the Bears without much in the way of investment outside of Harris, turned out 36 sacks from their front four. They were lead by rookie fifth round pick Mark Anderson, with 12.

From 2007-2008 Johnson was with the Oakland Raiders, who stunk and Johnson didn’t get much from the team or the team didn’t get much from him. That was the Lane Kiffin years, so a lot of coaches deserve a pass, but Johnson didn’t have much in the way of talent to work with, but he also didn’t get much out of the talent he had.

Then, Johnson landed his last gig in the NFL, at least until the Cardinals came calling again, with the San Diego Chargers.

In 2009, Johnson and the Chargers got off to a nice start, but the Chargers defensive line was just starting their evolution. They got little production in their 3-4 defense from big, more plodding run stoppers in Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire, but that is not surprising. Guess who was the defensive backs coach for that team... Oh, Steve Wilks.

The Chargers went from 11th to 10th in points per game allowed, their rush defense went from 20th (2009) to fourth (2010) and the overall defense improved. Yet again, Johnson would pay for it, as the entire starting defensive line with the Chargers turned over, from Castillo and Cesaire to rookie Corey Liuget, second year fourth round pick Vaughn Martin and journeyman Antonio Gray. They plummeted to 20th in run defense in 2011.

However, in 2012 they rebounded back to sixth in rush defense, keeping Liuget and martin and adding veteran Aubrayo Franklin.

From there they added Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas to their starting defense and it only fell to 12th in rush defense, before just dropping the bottom out to 26th in 2014 and bottoming out at 27th in 2015, Johnson’s last year in coaching.

Johnson was given a first and second rounder in Liuget and Reyes respectively. Their work against the run is very good, but they never reached their pass rushing potential.

Is that on Johnson or the defense?

Ironically, the most success Johnson had as a coach, at least in terms of getting players to Pro Bowls, sack numbers, and against the run, was in a 4-3.

Maybe that is why Johnson was brought in, to help the transition from 3-4 to 4-3... eventually.

However, their is definitely a bond between Johnson and Head Coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

We’ll see how Johnson does with the young interior defenders in Robert Nkemdiche and Olsen Pierre, but that seemed to be where he got the most out of his players, was the guys he worked with on the inside.