Gary Johnson and the average size of the modern MLB

Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson

Sign up here for FREE Inside Texas Premium access for two weeks!

On my computer I have little text edit documents with the depth charts for just about every power 5 program as well as 20 or so mid-majors that are nationally relevant. I track all the starters and some of the backups with their size, class, where they came from, and sometimes their 247 ranking coming out of HS or JUCO.

So I have quite the archive of college player info. It’s useful for evaluating teams but it’s also useful for recognizing patterns.

ian linebacker

While Texas has been wandering in the wilderness this decade, other teams have managed to field consistently good LBs from year to year. Many have done so without the use of 230-250 pound freakish LBs and I think there’s a reason for it.

New duties for the inside-backer

In the analogy of war, the linebackers are your key reserves that you hold back until you see where the attack is coming and then quickly loose to shore up the defense at that point. The challenge of the game is that you have to teach them to learn how to recognize where that point is on their own.

The key strategy in modern offenses is to try and force the linebackers to be in two places at once via spacing and option tactics and punish them for whichever choice they make. If your linebackers can even consistently arrive in the right place the battle is more than half won.

That means that recognition and speed are the two most essential skills at the position. Arriving with violence is great, but it comes after arriving at all.

If a 200 pound LB arrives on time but becomes a speed bump you might surrender 3-10 yards. If your 250 pound monster gets caught in no man’s land you might give up a TD. Your 4/5-star blue chipper becomes like Rommel’s 12th SS Panzer division. Unavailable at the crucial moment.

As it happens, because LBs often have to cover ground to arrive at the right place at the right time they can build up speed and have a chance at boosting the second half of the F=MA equation.

The inside-backers that are good at this today are often fast and naturally low to the ground (short). Here are some examples.

The modern inside-backer

Let’s start with my favorite defense, the North Dakota St Bison. Before you complain that they’re a FCS team let me remind you that they shut down Iowa’s run game this year.

Here are the four guys they relied on in their run D:

Mike: Matt Plank: 6-0, 223
Will: MJ Stumpf: 6-2, 220
Sam: Pierre Gee-Tucker: 6-1, 223
Free safety: Robbie Grimsley: 6-0, 180

Tucker played inside in the nickel and Grimsley had box run fits against spread sets. It all worked out quite well.

Then there’s Alabama and Clemson who used:

Reuben Foster: 6-1, 222 (cut down from like 245)
Ben Boulware: 5-11, 230
Kendall Joseph: 6-0, 230.

Now how about in the B12? Here are some of the inside-backers that were good in the B12 last year:

Mike Moore, Kansas St. 6-1, 228
Travin Howard, TCU. 6-1, 210
Jordan Evans, OU. 6-3, 230
Chad Whitener, OSU: 6-1, 248
Al-Rasheed Benton, WVU: 6-1, 237
David Long, WVU: 5-11, 223
Justin Arndt, WVU: 5-11, 215

Jordan Evans was the only guy with prototypical size and it wasn’t until last year that he really nailed down his transition from being a HS safety to a collegiate inside-backer. In fact even last year his greatest strength was coverage.

Gary Johnson

So the first question to ask with Johnson is “can he consistently arrive at the right place at the right time?”

The answer from film seems to be a resounding “yes!” He scrapes well, he reads flow, and he’s all kinds of quick. That’s what you get with a former track star turned heat-seeking missile.

The next question is “when he arrives will he be a hammer or a speed bump?” At 210 you may wonder if someone bigger and sturdier could also be counted on to hit the gap.

To me the key here is his number in the vertical jump: 39.4″

I’ve noticed that the vertical leap is actually valuable for giving us a metric for how much explosive power guys can generate in their first few steps. Whether that number is close to true or not, Johnson can generate a LOT of power in a few short steps.

So he has the speed and lateral quickness to cover ground, but he’s also not necessarily going to lose when he takes on a H-back in the hole off the snap either.

Maybe this guy ends up getting up to 220 or even 230 before all is said and done. But in the meantime, I wouldn’t be too concerned about whether his weight will hold him back.

Sign up here for FREE Inside Texas Premium access for two weeks!