You are here

   Pepper Johnson   Defensive Line
  Year: 23   Yrs/Pat: 10
  School: Ohio State
  Major: Counseling and Physical Education
  Born: Jul 29, 1964  Detroit  MI


Pepper Johnson is enjoying his 23rd season in the NFL, including his 10th season on Bill Belichick's coaching staff. Johnson has been a part of five Super Bowl championship teams, earning a pair of rings during his illustrious 13-year playing career and also contributing to three championship teams as a Patriots assistant coach. All five of his championship rings have been earned while teamed with Coach Belichick.

In 2009, Johnson enters his sixth season mentoring the defensive line after spending three seasons as the Patriots' inside linebackers coach. Last season, the defensive line contributed to a Patriots defense that allowed 19.3 points per game and ranked second in the NFL in forced threeand- outs percentage (30.6) as the team posted an 11-5 overall record.

In 2007, the defensive line contributed to a Patriots defense that ranked fourth in the league in yards allowed per game (288.3), the least allowed by a Patriots defense since 1979. The defensive line also helped hold opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game in 2007 and allowed just seven total rushing touchdowns. Defensive end and cocaptain Ty Warren finished second on the team in tackles (83) and nose tackle Vince Wilfork was voted to his first Pro Bowl.

In 2006, the defensive line was a key component of a defense that set the franchise record in points allowed per game (14.81). Anchored by the defensive line, the Patriots defense was ranked in the top 5 in the NFL for the final 10 weeks of the season, and the New England defense ended the season tops in fourth down conversion percentage. Defensive co-captain Richard Seymour was selected to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl, and Warren had a breakout year, submitting career highs in tackles (117) and sacks (7.5). Wilfork finished fourth on the team with 81 tackles despite missing the final three games, and top reserve Jarvis Green notched a career-high 7.5 sacks.

In 2005, Johnson tutored a defensive line whose performance down the stretch helped the Patriots claim four wins in December to clinch the division title. In those four December games, New England allowed a total of just 125 rushing yards, an average of only 31.3 rushing yards per game. Defensive co-captain Seymour earned his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl berth and maintained the high level of production that has earned him accolades as one of the NFL's top defensive players. Former first-round draft choices Warren and Wilfork each started all 16 games and reached career-high tackle totals. Wilfork's 91 stops placed second on the team, while Warren's 77 tackles ranked third.

In his first season as defensive line coach in 2004, Johnson successfully integrated young talent with a solid veteran presence to form a versatile unit. The line was key in helping New England's run defense rank sixth in the NFL, and the defensive line accounted for 14.5 sacks on the season. Seymour earned his third straight Pro Bowl nod, while Warren, a second-year pro, and Wilfork, a rookie, each came into their own as top-line NFL starters.

In 2003, Johnson coached an inside linebackers unit that was a key part of a defense that held its opponents to a franchise-record and NFL-best 14.9 points per game. The inside linebacking corps was a major reason the Patriots ranked fourth in the NFL in run defense in 2003, up from 31st in the league in 2002. In addition, inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi returned two interceptions for touchdowns and credited one of Johnson's practice drills with improving his nose for the ball.

Johnson originally joined Coach Belichick's staff as part of the NFL's summer coaching fellowship in the summer of 2000. He spent the season with the Patriots as a defensive assistant, working primarily with the linebackers. In 2001, he joined the staff as the inside linebackers coach, the same position at which he excelled for 13 NFL seasons. After injuries sidelined Ted Johnson and Bryan Cox in 2001, Bruschi made the transition from outside to inside linebacker and helped fuel the Patriots defense through a season-ending win streak that culminated with a Super Bowl title. In 2002, linebackers Roman Phifer and Ted Johnson finished first and second in tackles with 109 and 96 tackles, respectively. It was the first time two linebackers led the Patriots in tackles since 1994.


Johnson started 158 of 193 regular season games and played for four different teams during his 13-year NFL career from 1986-98. The two-time Pro Bowl performer won Super Bowl titles as a member of the New York Giants in 1986 and again in 1990. His presence helped form one of the most dominant defensive units in the history of the game. In 13 seasons, he totaled over 1,200 tackles, including 25.5 sacks. He also forced 12 fumbles, recovering eight, and intercepted 14 passes, including two that he returned for touchdowns. In a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1991, he set a franchise record with 4.5 sacks. He played seven seasons with the Giants (1986-92) before joining the Cleveland Browns in 1993. In 1994, he recorded a careerhigh with 207 tackles for the Browns. He signed with the Detroit Lions for one season in 1996 before being reunited with Bill Belichick in New York when he signed with the Jets in 1997. He played two seasons with the Jets before retiring in 1999. In his first season with the Jets, he was voted team captain before the start of the regular season. A midseason injury vs. New England (10/19/97) sidelined him for the remainder of the season, but he returned as team captain and started every game for the Jets in 1998. Prior to his injury, he had not missed a game or a practice in 11- plus NFL seasons.

A two-time co-captain and defensive MVP at Ohio State, Johnson was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft after an All-American campaign as a senior for the Buckeyes in 1985.


Thomas "Pepper" Johnson was born July 29, 1964 in Detroit, Mich. He was nicknamed "Pepper" by an aunt who observed his ritual of sprinkling pepper on his breakfast cereal as a youngster. After an all-star prep career at MacKenzie High in Detroit, Johnson was named to Michigan's all-decade team for the 1980s. Johnson became a scholarathlete at Ohio State, where he majored in counseling and physical education. In 1999, his alma mater named him to the school's all-century team. In 2001, he was inducted into the Ohio State Hall of Fame. He formed Pepper Johnson Enterprises, a non-profit community organization that operates in Detroit to support youth and anti-crime programs. Johnson's many philanthropic endeavors have earned him honors for his work with Special Olympics, the March of Dimes, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Children's Leukemia Foundation and Pepper Johnson's Youth Foundation. He is also a supporter of the Michael Landon Foundation, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Dylan MalaMala Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Trey Whitfield Foundation. While in New York, he sponsored a charity golf tournament on Long Island to benefit a home for babies born to drug-addicted mothers. Johnson's son, Dionte, is a second-year fullback for the Arizona Cardinals.