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All-22 Review: Transfer LB Caleb Johnson

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Oregon v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes are in pursuit of improved linebacker play and have added talent to the front line by signing Caleb Johnson out of the transfer portal. Johnson, a former UCLA Bruin, is a well traveled linebacker having attended Texas, Fullerton and UCLA before now heading to Coral Gables and The U.

Over two years at UCLA, Johnson has logged seven tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and three pass breakups on 89 stops. The six-foot-one, 230 linebacker has played inside and outside linebacker in the Bruins odd front base defense.


Outside

Above- Playing outside, Johnson sheds a Ducks blocker and settles up before an explosive tackle.

Above- What you like on tape is how polished he is. The UCLA LB coach for Johnson in 20 and 21 was Don Pellum. Pellum was a long-time Pac-12 assistant coach who recently retired at the age of 60. A former Ducks LB, Pellum spent the majority of his adult life in Eugene, OR. Pellum replaced longtime Oregon DC Nick Aliotti as the DC in 2014, before retired and un-retiring to resurface at UCLA. When Chip Kelly arrived at UCLA one of his first calls was to have Pellum come and coach the linebackers.


Man Coverage

Above- you want your LB to re-route the dragging/crossing receivers in any defense. Johnson, instead of getting hands on the crosser, passively lets him go and winds up having to chase his man across the field. The WR gets a big pick up.

Above- Take a look at Johnson get lost here on the crossing route and lose the receiver.


Backside pursuit

Above- You can tell that Johnson is well coached technically (and most of the time, tactically) for the LB position. Unlike many linebackers, Johnson actually scrapes to plays, tracks the near hip, and attempts to slow-play runs away. His solid pursuit skills work well with his powerful grapple on tackles.

Above- Johnson has the tools. As the away LB, he scrapes, replaces, and stays square here to make the tackle. He has a powerful finish, exploding into ball carriers rather than catching.


Zone coverage

Above- Johnson is in hook-curl-flat here and closes down on the back quickly. Much improved coverage skill when his coverage is a smaller zone, than chasing a crosser in man. Makes sense re his skillset which is as an ILB in an odd scheme more than as a man coverage guy.

Above- Johnson is much better in zone than man. I love how he moves. He’s not a turn and run guy. He slow-plays people, uses his lateral quickness and his eyes. He has strong visual-cognitive-motor skill connections. He’s lightyears ahead of what’s on the roster in this regard.


Scrape exchange

Above- More of the ‘run stuff’ qualities I’m sure Coach CRISTOBAL (not Coach MARIO, y’all) loves from the Johnson tape. Obviously, Cristobal has plenty of first-hand experience trying to plan for no. 40. Here, Johnson scrape exchanges (post snap the two players switch which gap they’re responsible for) with the crashing D-End.

Johnson has to work right, then stop on a dime and re-direct left, while staying in a power position. He doesn’t just move well here, he has the vision and finish ability to close, buzz, and thump the back.

Above- Absolutely beautiful scrape exchange here. I love Johnson’s footwork, how he stays square, and he doesn’t panic. He works quick but not to over-run. He stays square, settles well, and has a high Football IQ.


Pressure

Above- this pressure doesn’t get home but it’s more about timing than his ability.

Above- Johnson works well on a curved sprint and just misses getting home on the QB on a LONG blitz path.


The wrap

Caleb Johnson has had a weird journey through college football. Much like in Moneyball, guys don’t really stick around for this many years in college without having some red flag, but that’s what you typically get in the transfer portal. Even a Jahmyr Gibbs has had a small flag or two (hamstring, leaving games early hobbled).

Johnson has now attended five schools (including a grayshirt) over his soon-to-be fifth year in college football. He’s also been banged up, a lot. Johnson has suffered through groin, shoulder, and arm injuries during his college career.

Prediction; Starting inside linebacker in 2022.