Why the Pats have 17 starters on 'D'

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
2:35
PM ET
Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson was a guest on Sirius NFL radio this morning, answering questions from hosts Bob Papa and Carl Banks.

The three engaged in a high-level football discussion which was short on Patriots specifics, but delved into how the game has evolved over the years.

The increasing versatility of defenses – and how different packages have almost created defensive specialists -- was a topic that Johnson addressed.

“You rarely find offensive teams where they are running one personnel group. They’re changing their personnel groups every other play, if not every play,” Johnson said in response to a question from Papa. “So you have a lot of defensive coordinators, they’re changing their philosophy. Either they’re matching up personnel or still [dictating] and running different groups out there on the field.

“This day and this era, who is a starter? What is a starter? We have like 17 guys on our defense that are really considered starters, because you have one group, then you have a different personnel group – that guy is coming into the ballgame because he’s a major part in that grouping. Whether he’s out there on the first snap or whatever, I’m quite sure that doesn’t dictate whether he’s a starter or not. A lot of guys are playing 20-25 plays a ballgame now.”

Johnson used Vince Wilfork as an example of how the term “starter” means little when compared to how many snaps a player lines up each game.

“If a team starts off with four or five receivers the first play of the game, there is a strong chance that Vince might not be on the field the first play of the game,” he said. “Is he not a starter? Not in our book. That’s just the evolution of the game.”

Earlier in the interview, Johnson made the point that fewer defensive backs jam receivers at the line of scrimmage from the time he entered the league in the 1980s. With that, more defenses are focusing on disguising their coverages, trying to get the quarterback to throw into traps.

Johnson is known by many for his passion and energy. This discussion highlighted his football intelligence.

For those who enjoy football philosophy, and hearing from hard-working coaches behind the scenes, it was an enjoyable discussion.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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