Posted: 4:45 p.m.
When one of the greatest names in defense died Tuesday night at age 68, one of his offensive foes drew one final play for Jim Johnson.
"A really good person. One of those guys that being around every day was a pleasant experience," said Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski as he drove to training camp Wednesday. "I was saddened to hear the news and it was an honor to have coached with him."
Before Johnson embarked on his decade as the defensive wizard of the Eagles, he served as the linebackers coach in Seattle when Bratkowski was the offensive coordinator. It was there that Johnson began lining up his linebackers over the guards in the "A" gap of a 4-3 defense and became the starting point of his unique pressure scheme.
"It wasn't anything like we'd seen. It forced us to rethink our protections," Bratkowski said. "There was a lot of a gap pressure. J.J. was one of the first, if not the first, to come up the middle like that and force you to use a running back to block. And then he would have the ends dropping and the backers coming, or one end dropping and overload a side."
Bratkowski said much of it is what "Zim does today," and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said it's no coincidence. His Dallas defenses went up against the Eagles 14 times from 2000-2006 and he took notes.
"We watched them a lot. Heck, we watched them a lot this offseason," Zimmer said. "I didn't know him personally, but we talked from time to time, like before games. Yeah, we stole from each other. I took some things, of course. He was one of the four or five coordinators you could look up. I respected him a ton. Honestly it's a big blow to coaching."
Johnson died of melanoma skin cancer that spread to his spine and Bratkowski made a note to wear more hats under the broiling training camp sun. He will have a chance to do that but he's down that he won't have a chance again to talk to Johnson before the Bengals face the Eagles.
Before Johnson's 13-13 NFC East tractor pull with Zimmer last year at Paul Brown Stadium, Bratkowski noticed that Johnson didn't come on the field before the game. But the Eagles assistant coaches told him that Johnson wanted to make sure they told him he said hello.
"I thought there'd be other chances to talk to him," Bratkowski said. "I remember he and his wife were very passionate about playing golf. After we were in Seattle, he had heard I had gone on a golfing trip to Scotland and he wanted to know all about it. He said he wanted to go. I hope he did."