Inside The Bills

Pepper’s mantra for D-line

Posted by Chris Brown on August 17, 2014 – 9:47 am

Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson is very respected among his players. A 13-year NFL career that includes two Super Bowl rings, not to mention three more as an assistant coach, Johnson has the ear of his defensive line charges. His second unit in particular has been determined to not let there be a drop off in play when they go in for the starters this preseason. So far, so good.

“We’ve got real prestigious coaching, like Pepper Johnson, he stresses that to us every day,” said Stefan Charles who teamed with Jacquies Smith on the sack, fumble that Landon Cohen recovered and returned to the Steelers 16-yard line. “Have no fear and be out there as warriors, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Charles, Cohen, Smith and Corbin Bryant have done a decent job through the preseason as the second wave of defensive linemen.

“The coach is giving us the opportunity to make plays so when they come around you gotta make them,” said Charles. “We’ve got a lot of freedom on the D-line, we just got to get after it.  That’s what we try to do.”

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Spikes: Pepper will boost D-line performance

Posted by Chris Brown on June 23, 2014 – 11:09 am

As we began our Camp Countdown series today we asked just how dominant Buffalo’s defensive line can be in 2014. Bills MLB Brandon Spikes is very familiar with the level of talent that will be playing in front of him on Buffalo’s defensive line. Three Pro Bowlers and a 10-sack guy last season are projected as the front four for the Bills. Spikes also knows the man who will be coaching them this year very well in Pepper Johnson. Here’s where Spikes feels Johnson will best help in making Buffalo’s defensive line truly elite.

“I think he can just kind of provide the wisdom part of the game,” Spikes told “He played at a high level playing and coaching. I think he has stuff that some coaches don’t get because he’s seen it in the past with the helmet on. He has a great deal of experience. I think showing up the D-line is already great. I think they’re pretty good right now, but with him giving the extra fundamentals and small little things that can tip the game I think it can take them to the next level. I’m anxious to see those guys get out there and take some of that coaching from him and put it on the field. I can’t wait to see it.”

The boost will be needed most when it comes to run defense, an area where both Johnson and Spikes figure to be of help this fall.

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Marrone on working with new coaches

Posted by Chris Brown on May 19, 2014 – 3:46 pm

The Bills not only had a host of new players on hand at rookie minicamp. It was also the first time that Doug Marrone got on the field to work with some of his new assistants. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, linebackers coach Fred Pagac, defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, quarterbacks coach Todd Downing and receivers coach Rob Moore were all new additions to the Buffalo staff.

Marrone felt the communication between the members of the staff was smooth.

“It’s been great. Even though it might be our first time together it’s still a lot of information and a lot of crossover and people who have worked together with each other,” he said. “I’m excited. This atmosphere is quite different than any other atmosphere in what we were trying to get accomplished. I think you’ll see an increase in OTAs of how we are on the field. Then you’ll see an increase when we get to training camp.”

Marrone did work previously with Moore, who was his receivers coach at Syracuse.

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Building thru draft different in 80’s

Posted by Chris Brown on May 5, 2014 – 11:00 am

In the 1980’s when there was more time to groom players before plugging them in the starting lineup, building your team through the draft, as we covered in our latest ‘On the Clock’ installment driven by Michelin, mean something different. Free agency only existed in the form of ‘Plan B’ and NFL head coaches didn’t have to treat rookie draft choices with much respect because they were expected to earn their playing time through their play in practice and on special teams, if they even made the roster. Such was the case with the New York Giants when Bill Parcells was the head coach as Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson remembers.

Johnson, who was a second-round pick of the Giants in 1986, was joining a veteran team that had lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs the year before to an unstoppable Bears team, which went on win Super Bowl XX.

So even though Johnson was a second-round pick, in the first meeting between the draft choices and Parcells it was evident the Giants head coach didn’t value his rookie all that much.

“When Parcells steps into the room and says, ‘We don’t need any of you.’ That wasn’t an awakening, but I thought it was cold,” Johnson told “I was like, ‘Whoa. I thought why did you pick me if you don’t need me?’ So for him to take that approach really lit a fire under all of us because everybody felt like he was directly talking to them. You weren’t promised anything and you’re definitely not going to be given anything or handed anything. We had to go earn our right to play.”

Johnson after he made the roster was told playing time on defense was anything but assured.

“He said, ‘You’re not scheduled to play on defense, but the more you show me on the show team, the more you show me that you want to play football on special teams, never being late to meetings, the more you will get the opportunity to play.’ And it all held true,” said Johnson. “By the time that the season ended that year and we got to the Super Bowl I played more than the guy who was starting over me. I never started a ball game my rookie year, but I had more snaps than he did including the postseason.”

But Johnson said Parcells maintained that approach even into the late 80’s. It led 1989 fifth-round pick Dave Meggett to take a unique approach to his time with the Giants at training camp.

“Dave Meggett came to camp in a Dodge Gremlin and everything he owned was packed up in that Gremlin and it stayed in there,” said Johnson. “He never really unpacked. He would grab clothes as he needed them. He felt like I’m coming to the Giants and if these guys cut me I don’t want to be trying to find stuff and pack up stuff and go back to South Carolina. I’ll already have everything packed into this car. So we used to tease him, ‘Hey rookie give me a ride!’ But he never could because there was no room for anyone to sit in that car.”

Those days are in stark contrast to today’s draft choices, who are often afforded every opportunity to make the 53-man roster.

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Pepper: I’m a demanding coach for a reason

Posted by Chris Brown on February 13, 2014 – 2:52 pm

Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson won a pair of Super Bowls as a player under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants, and three more as a coach with the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick. Those two coaches were and are demanding and shaped him as a coach. Naturally he considers himself demanding as well.

“I think the sport demands a lot out of you. I think you really need to have that, but my job is really to get the players to understand each other,” Johnson said. “As long as they understand each other and I can sit back and watch them work from the things that I have shown them and made them aware of in the classroom and the practice field, then I don’t have to do all that yelling and pointing fingers on the sideline. That’s when I feel like in my job I’ve accomplished something.

“Until then I have a little carving and drafting to do to get that format across so that everybody is working on the same page. We can’t go out there playing as individuals or thinking selfishly. We all have to have the same track and stay focused on a common goal whether it’s day by day or week by week. It’s grasping every moment. That’s what we have to learn from each other.”

Johnson won his first NFL title in his rookie season under Parcells and Belichick, who was the defensive coordinator, but when he first arrived at Giants camp he wasn’t sure he’d even make the team despite being a second-round pick.

“When I first came into the league I had a little idea of who coach Parcells was, and Parcells made it totally clear in his first rookie meeting that he didn’t need any one of us,” recalled Johnson. “He said they were a locomotive that was moving and you need to run and sprint and jump on the back of it because they were already moving.”

Johnson of course made the team and appeared in all 16 games his rookie year as a special teamer and rotational player on defense.

“Fortunately they did use a few of us,” said Johnson.

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Johnson has done his coaching homework

Posted by Chris Brown on February 13, 2014 – 1:47 pm

It’s often an overused phrase with players when it’s said, ‘He’s a student of the game.’ Bills defensive line coach Pepper Johnson however, exemplified that during his 13 years as a player in the NFL and has done for the past decade and a half as a coach.

Johnson, whose dream was to be a legendary high school coach at his alma mater in Detroit (the school unfortunately closed), spent time as a player pulling advice and pointers about the game from some of the best who played in the modern era.

“I would take information that I got from professionals that I respected and I tried to pick the brains of a Ronnie Lott, the late Reggie White, Richard Dent, Everson Walls,” said Johnson. “I tried to pick the brains of those guys and I wanted to present it to high school kids as much as possible. It stemmed from a football camp I used to do back in Detroit.”

But with just a three-day football camp it allowed him to take that NFL wisdom only so far. Equipped with a lot of football lessons both experienced and learned, Johnson is not concerned in the least in learning the terminology of Buffalo’s defensive scheme under Jim Schwartz.

“I’m a very big fan of football and the history of football,” Johnson said. “So I have watched and studied and I’ve learned from a lot of older guys who played in the 60’s and 70’s to the present day. And how the game changed because some things you can’t change like, tackle the man with the football. To me it’s just a matter of semantics with different terminology and just applying it to myself. It’s not a totally different concept where I’m learning the game. I’m willing to match my wits with anybody as far as football.”

Johnson has also crossed paths with Schwartz before in the NFL. They were both with the Cleveland Browns for three seasons (1993-95). Johnson was playing for Bill Belichick and Schwartz was a scout with the club.

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Pepper pumped about his D-line

Posted by Chris Brown on February 13, 2014 – 1:40 pm


Pepper Johnson has been around the pro game for a long time following a 13-year playing career and 15 years in NFL coaching. He played with and coached a good number of talented defensive linemen, but that has no less impressed with the defensive line he’s inheriting here in Buffalo.

Knowing three of his defensive linemen made the Pro Bowl in Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, Johnson likes the possibilities.

“I have an awesome group,” Johnson said. “From my understanding I think that room is going to be well educated football-wise and guys who are hungry and want to win ball games. If you want to win ball games I’m your man. That’s what I’m built for.

“I think it’s a very good group to work with. What makes me feel real comfortable about the job I have ahead of me is that I’m hearing a lot of good things about our room and how the guys are good to work with. If that holds true then I’m definitely looking forward to the season.”

Johnson has coached Kyle Williams before. He had him for a week at the Pro Bowl back in 2010.

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Pepper started thinking about coaching in college

Posted by johnmurphyshow on February 4, 2014 – 10:00 pm

He had a 13-year playing career in the NFL. Pepper Johnson won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants at linebacker, and he was a Pro Bowl performer two times.

Yet all the time, Johnson knew that he wanted to be a coach. The Bills new Defensive Line Coach says he started thinking about coaching when he was attending Ohio State University, but he thought about coaching at a much lower level.

“Pretty much when I was in college at Ohio State,” Johnson said, when asked when he was bitten by the coaching bug, “but I never expected it at this level. I wanted to coach at my high school.”

Johnson was a guest Tuesday night on The John Murphy Show. He said as he made his way through the NFL as a player, he made a point of talking to teammates and opponents about coaching points.

“I tried to pick the brains of everybody I respected as a player,” he said. “So I talked to Reggie White, I talked to Richard Dent, I talked to Seth Joyner, defensive guys. I talked to Cornelius Bennett for a linebacker point of view. I talked to receivers, defensive backs. If I could get some of that knowledge and give it to high school kids that still have that drive, I felt like I was going to be a great high school football coach.”

Instead, Johnson got to work with his former Coach, Bill Belichick, in training camp one summer. And Belichick saw to it that Johnson never left the team.

“I did a minority fellowship with Coach Belichick after I retired,” he told host John Murphy, “and I wanted to get some information on how to organize your staff and practice schedules. I think Coach Belichick knew if I got back involved with football, I was going to stay.”

Stay he did. Johnson just wrapped up a 14-year coaching stint with New England, before signing on to coach the Bills Defensive Line last week.

The entire radio interview with Pepper Johnson is available here

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Bills new DL coach learned from Parcells

Posted by johnmurphyshow on February 4, 2014 – 9:00 pm

The new Defensive Line Coach for the Buffalo Bills got his first taste of the NFL from one of the master motivators in the history of the game.

Pepper Johnson, named last Friday to the DL post with the Bills, was a 2nd round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1986. His first head coach–Bill Parcells.

In an appearance on The John Murphy Show Tuesday night, Pepper Johnson described his first ever team meeting with Parcells and the Giants in 1986.

“He told us all that he didn’t need any of us,” Johnson remembered. “That’s how he started it off. He said the New York Giants didn’t need any of these guys. They had made it to the playoffs–this is a train, a locomotive, and it’s steamrolling. His best advice to us was if you got enough speed and enough heart, then catch on to the caboose, because this train is moving.”

Johnson told host John Murphy Parcells first speech left a big impression on Giants rookies that year.

“You felt like any bad move you might get cut and left high and dry, and I started running,” he said.

Pepper Johnson has spent the last 14-years with the New England Patriots, as a Defensive Line and Linebacker coach. He was asked if Parcells hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach would work with today’s NFL players.

“No,” he answered. “With some guys maybe. Some guys believe in working hard until the day they drop. But some guys feel that a lot of opportunities– they deserve them, and they’re going to make it some form or fashion, whether it’s here or somewhere else, and not looking at it as a privilege, an honor to play in the NFL.”

The entire radio interview with Bills DL Coach Pepper Johnson is available here

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Why Pepper left the Pats to come to Buffalo

Posted by johnmurphyshow on February 4, 2014 – 8:00 pm

It’s a big move for Pepper Johnson. The Bills new Defensive Line Coach made the switch to Buffalo after 14-seasons on the coaching staff of their biggest rival-the New England Patriots.

In an appearance on The John Murphy Show Tuesday night, Johnson said he made the move to get out from under the shadow of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick.

Johnson said he was comfortable in New England, and still pinching himself after a couple of days on the job in Orchard Park.

“My legs are still shaking a little bit,” he said. “But I’m excited, I’m so excited. I have always been a fan of Doug (Marrone) and the Buffalo Bills, and just getting the opportunity to spread my wings, and to get up from under the shadow of Coach Belichick. So it’s a good thing, a good opportunity.”

Johnson moved around the Patriots defensive coaching staff during his 14-years there, coaching both linebackers and defensive line. He spent the last two seasons working with New England’s linebackers, the position he played in the NFL. He told host John Murphy it’s all an effort to continue to grow as a coach.

“I’m growing,” Johnson said. “I’m a very ambitious person. I started off coaching and I moved around a little bit while I was there with New England, starting off with the linebackers,…then I graduated to coaching inside linebackers and took the linebackers over, and then eventually the defensive line. I went back to linebackers last year.”

Pepper Johnson does not hide his ambition to move up. And it’s been speculated in Boston that his move to Buffalo may be his attempt to set himself up for a defensive coordinator’s position in the NFL. Johnson says that would appeal to him.

“I would love to,” he said. “In a sense, those 13 years that I played in the NFL, I graduated to calling a lot of the defenses and having the responsibility of running our defense, and being an extension of the head coach on the sideline. It’s a dream of mine and a goal of mine, but right now, I have to deal with this defensive line.”

The entire radio interview with Pepper Johnson is available here

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