“Towards the latter part of last season I felt like I finished strong and felt everything was coming together for me,” he said. “Then I was hoping to go into spring and improve on that momentum, but that didn’t happen because of my lung problem. These past couple of days I feel like I’ve had a really good start to fall camp and I’m just out there trying to help this team get better.”
Poised to springboard into the starting nose tackle spot heading into last spring camp, blood clots forming in his lungs halted any momentum he had built up over the season.
“Everything is going pretty good for me right now,” said Johnson. “I’m coming back from blood clots in my lungs that made me miss all of spring camp. I had these clots in my lungs and had to get that all taken care of first, so now I’m back better than ever. I understand the whole defense much better now so everything is slow motion for me out there. I expect a good year out of myself this year personally.”
He’ll bid his time, continue working hard, and compete for a chance to start, which will be a difficult thing to do with Travis Tuiloma in front of him.
“Yeah, I’m on the second team right now behind Travis, and, man, Travis is doing a great job out there,” said Johnson. “Right now we’re just competing and working with Coach Mendenhall every day, and he’s out there pushing us to go hard and compete every day. Bronco’s favorite thing to say is, ‘You can’t run a 3-4 defense without a good nose tackle’ so he’s pushing us.”
“Yeah, I go against Travis every day,” said center Edward Fusi. “He’s a little on the lighter side but he’s really strong and stout. He’s tough to move around and he’s also really good with his feet. Both he and Marques are really good players and are competing really well at the nose tackle position.”
Although now Johnson is established among the two-deep, it wasn’t always as easy experience for him playing in the middle. In fact, his feelings for playing nose tackle were less than idealistic.
“Man when I first got here I thought two-gapping was one of the worst things a defensive tackle could do,” said Johnson with a laugh. “When I first got here I thought two-gapping was stupid. I just gave up all hope after that, but now it’s my third year and I’m a master at it now.”
Playing the two-gap technique has become second nature to Johnson who has clearly bought into the system and is now enjoying himself more.
“When I was at El Camino Junior College we would just try and get to the quarterback and make plays, but here you have to take a step back and be passive but aggressive at the same time,” he said. “Then after that you have to read and react and go from there. It’s just second nature to me right now and that’s all I think about. I go to sleep thinking about two-gapping and when I wake up I’m thinking about two-gapping. It’s just second nature to me and I can do it so easily now.”
It took a couple of years for Marques Johnson to understand the culture and why’s and how’s of the 3-4 defense. It also took him some time to get used to the demands of his head coach Bronco Mendenhall as well, who helps coach the nose guard position.
“Playing here under Bronco, man, you have to have a strong will,” said Johnson. “That’s the reason why he takes guys like me, Travis [Tuiloma], Kesni [Tausinga], Josh Carter and he wants to break us and see our insides. If he sees any glimmer of weakness he’ll say you can’t play nose tackle for him. It’s fun being the backbone of the defense even though you’re in the front. If you’re getting rolled up every play then there’s nothing a defense can do and we’re going to get run up on every play. There are some pressures that come with playing the position.”
However, those pressures and responsibilities Johnson relishes now that he feels he’s mastered more the two-gap technique and the nose tackle position.
“Yeah, things have kind of changed for me over the years,” Johnson said. “It’s a big responsibility playing nose tackle and I enjoy the responsibilities that come with it. I welcome it with open arms and I like being that guy. There’s no pressure on me and I feel comfortable playing the position and having that role now.”