One offseason move that caught a lot of people by surprise was Sean McVay’s decision to let Wade Phillips go and hire a first-time defensive coordinator to replace him. Brandon Staley, who will take over for Phillips, has only been an outside linebackers coach in the NFL, spending the last few years with the Bears and Broncos.
It helps that Staley will be coaching the entire defense, but Johnson is confident the Rams boast a better defensive roster than the Bears and Broncos.
“OK, so I will say this: In the past Coach Staley came from Denver, he came from Chicago. I think we have better guys on defense than he had in both of those places. So, just picture what they were doing with better guys,” he said on a conference call Thursday.
Just about every player who’s been asked about Staley has raved about his coaching style and system. There aren’t wholesale changes being made to the defense compared to Phillips’ scheme – they’re both 3-4 systems – but players love Staley’s aggressive approach.
Johnson is included in that group, too, saying Staley makes players’ jobs easier.
“He is a very player-friendly coach. He listens to us, what we’re comfortable with. Obviously, he has a system that he wants to establish here, but I just think he makes our job so much easier, that’s all,” he said. “Whatever he can do to make us work smart and not hard, he is going to do it and put us in good situations to make plays. I think it’s really the type of guys that we have and our strengths and working on that.”
Under Phillips, the Rams didn’t vary their defense much from week to week. It was a lot of zone coverage to complement Marcus Peters’ play style, but not much changed from opponent to opponent.
Johnson is happy to see the defense becoming more aggressive under Staley.
“He has an aggressive mindset where the defense shouldn’t be reacting. We should be like the hammer,” Johnson said. “We should dominate games. So, I will say he’s aggressive in that nature.”
Staley is in a tough situation, having no preseason to practice his play calls and defensive scheme. He’s never been a play caller in the NFL before, so that’s a hurdle he’ll have to overcome.
And when it comes to actually installing the defense, the Rams have fewer practices and missed out on OTAs in the spring to really help players along. There might be some speedbumps early in the season, but it’s nothing Staley and the Rams can’t move past.