I interviewed Bengals’ backup quarterback Josh Johnson over the phone last week. Here is the transcript.
Q: What was the best thing you got out of playing at the University of San Diego?
JOHNSON: Humbleness, understanding my true passion for football, and it taught a lot about myself. You’re never down and out. Being at a non-scholarship school, society tells you you will never get a chance to do what I’m doing right now, play in the NFL. To sum it all up, make the best out of your situation. Don’t complain, just make the best out of your situation no matter what you’re put in.
Q: What was your skill level as a quarterback coming out of Oakland Tech?
JOHNSON: Couldn’t scramble. Was more of a conventional thrower. Really raw. We played in more of a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football league. But I made throws when that was asked of me. We won our championship. I was always smart.
Q: What was your skill level coming out of USD? How much did you improve there?
JOHNSON: From a mental standpoint, I mastered an NFL offense in college. I was able to really see the benefits of playing in the West Coast Offense and doing it correctly. I was able to understand the little nuances of football. I was still developing as an overall passer, but my decision-making always was my greatest asset. And I was also a four-times better athlete than I was coming out of high school.
Q: Do you think you developed more at USD than you would have at a bigger place, like USC?
JOHNSON: I was able to be taught by pro guys. When I stepped into the NFL, I understood the language and everything the coaches were talking about. It was not foreign. It was like college again. Obviously, the athletes were four-times, five-times greater than what I was playing at USD.
Q: Was the speed of the game daunting to you at first when you got to Tampa Bay?
JOHNSON: A little bit, but it wasn’t as drastic as people make it seem. The scheme in the NFL, there’s so much happening on each play. In college, a team is going to play one or two things on defense, and that’s what they do. In the NFL, teams always are adjusting. They’re throwing different things at you. And you’ve got to be able to handle it all.
Q: Did it surprise you how quickly you adjusted to the speed of the NFL?
JOHNSON: No, it didn’t surprise me. It just excited me. All you keep hearing is: “Small school. Big-time adjustment.” This that and the third. But I was just as good of an athlete as those guys are.
Q: Do you ever wish you had grown earlier as a teenager, stayed healthy and gotten offers to a bigger school like Cal or UCLA?
JOHNSON: Honestly, no. I like the player I’ve become. I like the person I’ve become from going to USD and I’m very comfortable with that. I don’t know if I would have been able to become that somewhere else. Going to these bigger schools, you’ve got to deal with five-star recruits and guys who are hyped up. Stuff that you deal with in the NFL. Now that I’ve been in the NFL, I don’t know if I really would have wanted to deal with that in college.
We had something special there at USD. It was a bunch of guys who just wanted to play football, and there was no added incentive because we were paying to go to school.
Q: Why do smaller schools like USD and San Jose State have pedigrees for developing NFL QBs, but bigger schools like USC and Alabama don’t?
JOHNSON: A lot of NFL quality control guys or assistant coaches that want to become head coaches, they tend to start off at smaller schools. And if they come from the NFL, the No.1 mindset they have is, “I need a quarterback.” If you go find a diamond-in-the-rough type quarterback, a guy with a good skill-set, and you lay down the foundation for him of how to play the position, it’s a great opportunity to grow. I was able to start for three years, and it was a constant learning process for me in an NFL offense. But those big schools, they just try to win because the coaches have got to save their jobs. They’ve got to get the ball to their best players and make the game easy for their best players. This doesn’t help the quarterback develop.
Q: So at smaller schools it’s more about developing the quarterbacks?
JOHNSON: I would say so, because all the guys have similar skill sets. If you have a great athlete, he probably shouldn’t be at a small school.
Q: Most of the QBs in this draft come from non-major-conference colleges. Do you think that’s a coincidence or is that trend?
JOHNSON: I think it’s going to be a trend. If you go to a big school, there will be a five-star running back, or a five-star wide receiver. If you try to get them to learn an NFL offense, that might not be their strength at 18 or 19 years old. But they’re a hell of a player, so the coaches have to simplify the game for them and allow them to be great athletes.
That’s what I see in college football nowadays. A lot of these offenses are allowing these running backs and receivers to be great athletes. It’s different at the small schools. All of the athletes have a similar skill set, so you need your quarterback to be on point. That’s why you go get the guy you can develop in your pro system.