If you follow recruiting closely — not all of you do — you probably had a few nervous days leading up to signing period.
Jaleel Johnson, a 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle everyone covets, gave Iowa a verbal commitment in the fall. He started to waver. Michigan State hooked his aunt or some family member. He considered visiting the Spartans. He even talked to former Spartans DT Jerel Worthy, a name you’ll hear in the first round of April’s NFL draft.
In the end, after he visited Iowa City, Johnson stayed with his first choice. He said no thanks to an offer to visit East Lansing and stuck with the Hawkeyes.
Johnson is kid who got the “house with feet” comment from ESPN. He played some guard at Montini High School in Illinois, so . . .
“He’s a house with feet,” Montini coach Chris Andriano said. “He’s a big kid, moves very well. He’s got very powerful hips. When he hits people, they buckle.”
Johnson chose the Hawkeyes over offers from Arizona, Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin. He is a honor senior from Westchester. Johnson was a member of the 3-Peat state championship football team at Montini Catholic High School. Montini finished 12-2 in Johnson’s only season there. He had 80 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and nine pressures.
Johnson was born in Brooklyn in — get ready to feel old — 1994.
From ESPN.com: Johnson is a physical dude who seems to play like he is angry at the world. [Hey, that's about as good a lede as I've seen in these.] He plays on both sides of the ball and his aggressive nature could serve him well as a defensive tackle, but we are not so sure his best fit isn’t on offense. He has good size for either side of the ball. He looks to carry his weight fairly well and looks to be a kid that can get up to and play comfortably at or over 300 pounds. He could get a shot at defense and is a physical kid at the point of attack. He could be a tough run defender and is able to at times knock blockers back some and hold his ground. He can get tall with his pads and needs to be sure to consistently bring his hands and work to keep blockers off of him. We would not be surprised to see him get a look at defensive tackle, but his skill set looks better suited for offense as a guard.
Josh Helmholdt, Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst: We have him listed at 6-2, 277. He looks taller than that, he looks bigger than that. You can absolutely plug him in down in the trenches in the interior of the defensive line. He’s a guy who’s going to be able to not only stuff the run, but also collapse that pocket, put pressure on the quarterback.
What Iowa coaches said
Head coach Kirk Ferentz: I think playing time is realistic. Starting, hopefully, won’t be the case. I think that’s a tough challenge on either side of the ball up front. But that [D-line], you know, clearly is a big concern for us. We had three seniors a year ago go to the NFL, and all three of those guys did really well as rookies. Five seniors on this year’s ballclub, so you lose eight quality players. It’s a little bit like we went through with the offensive line in ’08, ’09.You lose eight quality players in a two-year span, that really leaves you a little thin in terms of experience. I think it’s really paramount the guys on campus have the best chance to develop into starters for us, and that’s going to be a real focal point. We can talk more about that next week moving forward. That’s going to be really critical. Right now we have four guys that are defensive line guys. Two of them are a little bigger and more developed than the other two. But I think all four have great upside. And I think the two bigger guys, certainly Jaleel and Faith have a better opportunity to come in and contribute next year because of physical maturity. But I think all four guys are guys that we’re excited about. You know, it’s going to be fun to see how that develops.
Recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson: Faith and Jaleel are guys we targeted from the get-go. They’re bigger bodies, good-looking guys. I think Jaleel is like 320 right now. He’s a big cat. Those guys from a size standpoint have an advantage over those other guys [other D-line recruits], but we’ll have to see when they get here on campus.
What I think
Johnson is a 1-technique starter kit. He’s big, aggressive and, potentially, could clog the middle of a line of scrimmage. In the Big Ten, there’s huge value in that. In the NFL, there’s millions of dollars of value in that. The 1-tech is the nose tackle. He lines up in front of the center, often “shading” or sliding his hips to one of the center’s shoulders. Because they are double teamed by the guard and center on nearly every play, nose tackles are normally big, strong, and stout. Basically, they are hard to move.
When Eric Johnson says “we’ll see when they get on campus,” it means if Johnson has the right kind of 320, he’ll see playing time and be a potential earthquake up front.
If Jaleel Johnson has that kind of 320, he plays. Rotation at the very least if not starter. I could see Johnson and Darian Cooper rotating inside with Carl Davis and maybe Louis Trinca-Pasat and maybe Mike Hardy fighting it out at 3-technique.
Or with new defensive coordinator Phil Parker, Iowa does something a little different up front.