Offensive linemen have a raw deal. On one hand, they’re the key to a successful offense. On the other, they are virtual unknowns with a reputation for being big and nothing else. According to fantasy football, they don’t even exist.
Wesley Johnson is more than your average lineman, though.
At Vanderbilt he played virtually every position on the line and almost went his entire college career without being flagged for a single holding penalty. If you want to say they’re dumb jocks, he went to Montgomery Bell Academy (alma mater of R.A Dickey, Grantland Rice and Bill Wade, among others) before joining the Commodores. And if you think lineman are mindless grunts in the trenches, Johnson was an offensive co-captain, with a youtube video to show his leadership potential. TDdaily caught up with Johnson recently to discuss how he’s spending his time now, what goes into playing offensive line and more. Check out the conversation below.
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TD: So what’s life like right now for an NFL prospect? Just a lot of team workouts and things like that?
Wesley Johnson: Yeah, it’s team workouts and then just working out to try to get in as good a shape as I possibly can, you know. Got to be ready for camp.
TD: Going back to when you were just starting out—no one really wants to play offensive line as a kid. Were you just the big kid on the team who got stuck there or is there something more to it?
WJ: No, I was actually always the tall, skinny kid. Yeah, I actually played tight end and defense and then going out for either freshman or sophomore year, I even tried out for quarterback. But I guess the long road eventually brought me to offensive lineman.
TD: This season you played pretty much every snap, right? Was that something you took pride in, consciously making sure you didn’t miss a play?
WJ: Yeah, absolutely, but maybe not so much this year; I would say I played every meaningful snap this year. We had better depth this year, so we were able to get some young guys in, but from freshman through junior year I had to play every snap because we really didn’t have that much depth. So that was kind of a requirement for everybody.
TD: Was there ever a moment in those years when you thought you just wouldn’t be able to make it out there?
WJ: I had a little bit of a scare when we played UAB. I got my ankle rolled up on and went out for the rest of the series, which was only like two or three plays. But then I came back after that.
TD: You also had a streak of not committing any holding penalties. Did that streak end up surviving through graduation?
WJ: No. Right when everyone started talking about it I actually got called for like three holding penalties three games in a row.
TD: So you got the media jinx then?
WJ: Yeah, I’ll say that I got jinxed.
TD: Even though it didn’t last, that’s still a pretty impressive streak. Why didn’t you get penalized all those games? Was it just good fundamentals or knowing how to hold without getting caught?
WJ: Yeah, it’s kind of the PC answer, but I would just attribute it to good coaching. We did the drills every day in practice: Keep your hands inside, keep your feet moving, stay in front of the guy, and if you don’t get beat then you won’t be in a situation where you have to hold him. And then, if you ever do get beat, you have to know when to let go.
TD: Do you think having good footwork is the most under-appreciated aspect of playing on the line? Because we all know the image of a lineman as a big guy who just gets in the way of the defender.
WJ: Yes. I mean you have to be able to move your feet well. If you can’t move your feet well, then you’re really going to have a hard time playing any position on the field. Even being a big inside lineman, you still have to be able to move your feet.
TD: You came to Vanderbilt from Montgomery Bell and I know they’ve produced a good amount of top athletes. Is there something special they do down there that makes a difference or is it just something in the Nashville water?
WJ: I’m just really proud of the school. I’m really proud of the way they approach things and I’m proud of the way the football program approached things. It was kind of like what Vanderbilt turned into; when you expect excellence in everything, you begin to get it.
TD: As a Tennessee guy through and through, can we assume you grew up with the Titans as your team? Does that mean you’d love to play for them?
WJ: Yeah, they were my team growing up, but I wouldn’t want to say I’m partial to them in terms of where I want to go. I really just want to go and go as high as possible.
TD: About halfway through the season, there was that video that came out of you blasting the offense at halftime. Is that something you normally do or were you just particularly angry that one game and it came out?
WJ: I don’t know—I think things like that happen in practice more than it does during the games. That’s just because practice is preparation for the games, you know, and there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than people see. I think this was the only time I got that mad in the locker room during a game and I didn’t even know they had a camera in there and all that. They just caught me off guard.
TD: Did you care that they got that on tape? I can imagine that some guys wouldn’t want that image of them floating around the Internet.
WJ: I was kind of upset by it, but I guess it ended up being pretty cool. But they cut off all of the non-family friendly parts and I wish they would have kept that on if they were going to put the other stuff up.
TD: Do you ever find it tougher to be a leader since you’re a lineman? Or does that just come naturally for you?
WJ: Not really and I think that’s a tribute to guys like Jordan Matthews, Zac Stacy, Austyn Carta-Samuels and all the other seniors that we had because we had a lot of good leaders and we were able to feed off each other. I could look at Austin or Jordan and start picking up if they were down a bit just like they could look at me and say, Hey, pick it up, we can do better than this. We had a good relationship as leaders on offense and I think that made everything a lot easier.
TD: Like you kind of mentioned before, you had to bounce around the line in your first couple of seasons. Was that tough for you and something you specifically had to change your mindset for each game?
WJ: A little bit. At center and guard it’s naturally a lot more physical, just because you’re hitting someone less than a second after the ball is snapped. At tackle, you do have to be a little more conscious about your technique, your feet, and staying in front of guys rather than just road grade them.
TD: So I’d image you could take things you learn playing on the outside and bring it more into the inside positions, even if everything’s moving quicker?
WJ: Yeah, for example in my freshman year at left tackle, if we had a pass protection sliding my way I would always bring the guard with me. Just because why not? So when I got moved into center and the left tackle started calling the guard out with him every time, I was kind of like Hey man, stop that. And then when I moved back out to tackle, I was a lot more judicious with it.
TD: Now we’ll get you out on this one: say whatever team you end up on, the fans are going through their new players and see your name. If they know nothing about you and you could explain yourself to them, what would you say?
WJ: They’re going to get the best version of me they can get. I’m going to work my ass off at everything I do on the field and I’m excited to do things off the field wherever I end up. But on the field, I’m going to do whatever I can to be the best version of myself and most importantly help the team win.
Joe Kozlowski is an Editorial Assistant for TDdaily. Follow him on Twitter @JoeKozlowski. See more from our Draft Prep interview series here!