Super Bowl Winning QB Brad Johnson talks Concussions, Dick’s Sporting Goods, FSU & a surprising take on Ndamukong Suh

Brad Johnson spent 17 years in the NFL, led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl Championship in 2002, was a two-time Pro Bowler and had nine straight NFL seasons with a 60% or higher completion percentage (2nd most in NFL history). I talked to him today about statistics, Florida State (where he played college football), Ndamukong Suh and concussions.

TheCFBGirl: Of course statistics never tell the whole story, but what are the most important statistics to look at in determining how well a quarterback plays?

Johnson: They don’t tell the whole story, but over a period of time, it kind of does tell what quarterbacks are playing better and what teams are usually winning: taking care of the ball, not turning the ball over, managing the game, being able to take teams down for winning drives, how do you handle two-minute situations? Usually the best quarterbacks are not throwing interceptions, throwing touchdowns and raising their completion percentage, and usually that quarterback is winning. Ten to fifteen years ago, if you could throw above 60% you were considered an accurate quarterback. Now its at the point where you’ve got to get to 65-67% to be that accurate quarterback and lead your team to championships. You can kind of see if you look at the completion percentages and obviously the QB ratings, what guys are successful and what teams are successful.

But, regardless…

Johnson: I’d like to always have my quarterback above 60%. That would be my goal. Obviously just look at a guy’s throwing motion. How does a guy see the field? Can he hit open receivers? Does he find his checkdowns? Does he read the coverage right? You definitely want a guy who can deliver a ball to open targets and be able to make plays with his feet after that.

TheCFBGirl: What do you think about Florida State’s quarterback, E.J. Manuel this year?

Johnson: It’s neat for him because he’s the quarterback who’s won the last two bowls for Florida State because

Florida State QB E.J. Manuel

Christian Ponder got hurt. He won the Chick-Fil-A bowl last year [vs South Carolina]. He won the Gator bowl two years ago [vs. West Virginia]. So he has some confidence and the team has confidence in him. He’s not just a brand new guy coming in there. He’s a big physical guy—he’s 6’4, 235 lbs., he can run, he can make enough passes to give them a chance to win. They’ve got Oklahoma the third game of the season this year so Florida State is back on track trying to win the ACC championship and then national championship.

TheCFBGirl: What do you think will determine Manuel’s success this year—what factor will make or break him?

Johnson: How he manages the ball–Turnovers. If he can make plays, make the routine plays and stay away from the bad plays, and then hopefully they can go undefeated.

And on to the other team Johnson may be rooting for in college football, Georgia, whose head coach is his brother-in-law, Mark Richt. With the exception of last year (Georgia’s first losing season under Richt), he has had an impressive record in SEC road games.

TheCFBGirl: What is it about Mark Richt that makes him succeed in hostile environments?

Johnson: Coach Richt is an unbelievable competitor. He’s done it for many years. At Florida State, they won championships. He’s had Heisman winners. He’s done it at Georgia. He’s very organized. He wants more than just football. He wants people to make the right decisions; he wants to be the Christina man. And he wants what’s good for the players. He’s not just concerned with just wins and losses because there’s a lot more to the college life and life itself than just games.

TheCFBGirl: What do you think are the biggest differences between college football and the NFL?

Johnson: Speed of the game, yes. Size of the guys, yes. Both of them are very competitive obviously. But in the pros you’re playing more games, you’re playing 4 pre-season games, 16 regular season games and then playoffs. So you can be playing 22, 23 games compared to in college maybe 12 or 13. And then the speed of the players, it’s a higher level, no doubt.

TheCFBGirl: Did you see the hit Ndamukong Suh had on Andy Dalton in the preseason game between the Lions and the Bengals?

Johnson: I did not.

I explained to Johnson that Ndamukong Suh tackled and threw Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to the ground after the ball had already been release and that in addition to being widely criticized, Suh received a penalty for the hit and a $20,000 fine, which he is appealing.

TheCFBGirl: Is this behavior dirty play or just aggressiveness, which is part of the game?

Johnson: It’s probably a little bit of both. I’m coaching a fifth grade football team and I saw it happen with us yesterday when a kid got tackled. You may hear the whistle, you may not hear the whistle. You’re always taught to play through the whistle. You’re always taught to make the tackle or make the hit. Sports are physical. You wear a mouthpiece and a helmet for a reason. And there are some cheap shots and dirty shots that do take place. It helps if they can avoid it. You hate for players to get fined. But that’s the way they tend to do that. Safety is an issue. At least there’s an awareness taking place. At that level they’re able to fine. But at the youth level they’re not able to, but at least we have a program now (see below) that’s taking place where we can check the kids out.

TheCFBGirl: I don’t recall Suh being called a dirty player when he played college football at Nebraska, but he’s just entering his second season in the NFL and already has $42,500 in fines. Is that an indication that there’s more dirtiness in the NFL?

Johnson: I wouldn’t say dirtiness. I’d say things get thrown out there more. And obviously there’s more TV coverage to the pros and so it gets talked about more. And they can slo-mo the TV camera all they want, so it kind of makes you look worse than it is sometimes. But physicality is part of the game.

And all of this discussion on physicality and aggressiveness brings us to why Johnson was speaking to us today: concussions.

TheCFBGirl: How did you become involved with Dicks and the P.A.C.E. program?

Johnson: Dicks Sporting Goods has gotten behind this thing called the P.A.C.E. program. P.A.C.E. stands for Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education. What P.A.C.E. is doing with Dicks Sporting Goods is to provide free baseline concussion testing for more than 3300 schools nationwide, with the goal of screening one million kids. If you go on mydickssportinggoods.com/pace, you’re able to sign up your school and get your kids involved. And basically, they’ve done concussion testing, especially because there’s been so much awareness at the college level and the pro level, but it really hasn’t been done in the youth sports. From youth sports to middle schools to high schools, they’re kind of unchartered territories. If a kid gets hit, if he gets dinged up, no matter what sport he’s playing in, a lot of times you just say, “are you okay” and get the evaluation of a parent or maybe just a volunteer coach. But now you have testing that can take place. A kid gets hurt—he can go back and re-test it and see when he or she is physically and maybe mentally ready to go back in and play.

TheCFBGirl: Do you think this is necessary because sports are becoming more violent or is it just that our awareness has increased?

Johnson: I think it’s both. The awareness, you’re hearing all kinds of things, probably more at the pro level now. It used to be just doctors and trainers just looking at your eyes and saying “are you okay?”…But now they’ve gotten to where at the college and pro level, they do the baseline testing and now they won’t let you go until you are able to be cleared. And for the youth sports it’s not just in football, [concussions are] happening in soccer, basketball, cheerleading and whatever events may take place. And now you have a baseline where you test your kids over time. As a parent, I have two boys, you want to look out for your kids in the best manner you can. And sometimes you’re just lacking trainers and doctors, especially at that level.

I spoke to someone who suffered multiple concussions as a soccer player in high school and perhaps even younger, but at the time she didn’t know what was happening. She explained that the consequences she suffered include impaired cognitive functioning, such as ability to sort out exactly what she is trying to do or say and that it impacts her to this day. She explained that it affects linear thinking and may have also contributed to some depression.

And then there’s Steven Threet who played quarterback last season for Arizona State and two years ago for Michigan. Threet has suffered four concussions already and doctors told him a fifth “could be debilitating.” As a result, Threet retired from football this year.

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