New Redskins running back Larry Johnson received some interesting words of encouragement from his first two head coaches in the NFL, Dick Vermeil and Herm Edwards.
“He will take over the running back position,” said Dick Vermeil, who coached Johnson in Kansas City from 2003 to ’05. “That’s what I think. He’ll push that guy right out of a job. Larry Johnson will work all week — he’ll work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday — and he’ll make you start him on Sundays.”
Though Johnson was often a chief source of headaches, two of his former Kansas City coaches sang his praises this week, both dismissing the notion that at 30, Johnson is no longer an effective NFL running back. In fact, both see favorable circumstances in Washington that could help Johnson return to Pro Bowl form.
“His back is against the wall, and for him, that’s when he’s at his best,” said Herman Edwards, who coached in Kansas City from 2006 to ’08. “Most people think he’s done, he’s finished, he’s too old. That actually helps him. He wants to prove people wrong. This is his third team in two years, he knows this could be it. You don’t need more incentive than that.”
“I think they got a great steal in this guy,” Vermeil said. “If they have any sort of offensive line, I really believe he’ll be the starting running back there, and he’ll do very well. If anyone thinks it’s some union job and a guy gets to start just because he’s the incumbent, nuh-uh. Larry will make him work. [Portis] will have to fight to even hope to keep his job.”
“This was a very productive guy who didn’t handle himself right with all of his actions off the field,” said Edwards, now an analyst for ESPN. “He’s not a bad guy, not a bad locker room guy. He’s good around the other players but often put himself in the wrong place at the right time, if that makes sense.”
“I’ve never seen a kid compete so hard to prove that he’s as good as the starter,” Vermeil said. “And if that starter isn’t the Priest Holmes-type who will match the effort every single day, Larry Johnson will take his job. I don’t know that much about Clinton Portis, but I know what Larry was like. He ran mean. In practices, he ran like he just plain didn’t like his teammates.”
Maybe he ran like that in practice because he didn’t like his teammates. Or coaches. Or both.
Either way, it’s interesting to hear Vermeil of all people lay out such a wide-ranging endorsement of LJ. Herm was always a players-coach so I’m not shocked to see him come to Johnson’s defense. But Vermeil? The man didn’t want to draft LJ in the first place and then when he was on the roster he publicly challenged him every chance he got.
You won’t find someone more open minded to second (or third, or fourth) chances, but Johnson did show me anything last season before or after his release to indicate he has anything left in the tank.