BLOOMINGTON — It was just one game, but for Indiana redshirt junior defensive lineman Jerome Johnson, it served as a springboard to an offseason of higher expectations.
Johnson finished the 2018 season against rival Purdue with four tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
“It definitely showed me that I could play at another level, and I need to take my game to that level at all times to help my team more,” Johnson said.
Johnson has taken that mindset into camp this fall with the Hoosiers. He’s set a goal to make the All-Big Ten team after finishing his sophomore season with a team-high 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. At Big Ten football media days, IU head coach Tom Allen said the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Johnson has the potential to be a dominant three-technique player on the inside of IU’s defensive line this season.
“With him encouraging me, the other coaches encouraging me and me working harder, I think it can happen,” Johnson said.
Allen noticed the growth in Johnson during the offseason, from maintaining his weight to his approach in the weight room.
“The way he approaches every workout has not always been consistent, and that’s what we’ve been really challenging him with,” Allen said. “I think we’ve seen growth in that, and that’s just got to continue.”
Allen also met with Johnson in the spring to discuss his leadership ability. From growing up in the small southern Mississippi town of Bassfield (pop. 216), Johnson is learning to come out of his shell.
“I’m not a morning person, so I would have a look on my face, you could tell I didn’t want to be here or would talk to you,” Johnson said. “He just challenged me to encourage the other players, smile more and do what I need to do to get better throughout the season.”
Asked about how the transition was made, Johnson replied: “Coffee, Red Bull. I’ve got a pretty good fake smile, and that’s about it. I work hard anyway, so I haven’t changed that.”
IU defensive line coach Mark Hagen has noticed Johnson working with the younger defensive lineman more so far during fall camp.
“Guys that generally don’t like to open their mouth or kind of sit back and are not necessarily leaders but more followers,” Hagen said. “I think he realized, hey, we lost a lot of guys and to help my cause so I don’t have to play 70, 80 snaps, I’ve got to coach these young guys up.”
Hagen said watching Johnson’s development from when he first stepped foot on IU’s campus to now has been a testament to his hard work.
“Jerome has gotten better every year,” Hagen said. “I remember a big out of shape underdeveloped guy from the south part of Mississippi in 2016. I didn’t know if he was going to last even a day, to be honest with you. We kind of laugh about it now. He’s bought into the weight room. I think you look at a guy right now that’s a 295-pound explosive athlete.
“I just want to see him take a game to another level. He can be in my opinion one of the top interior guys in the Big Ten. He’s got to go out and prove it too, and that’s the challenge.”
EXTRA POINTS: Allen was pleased with the energy during IU’s fourth practice of fall camp Monday. The Hoosiers went in shorts and shoulder pads and plan to go in full pads for the first time Tuesday. “Really good back and forth, both sides of the ball, making plays,” Allen said. “I thought the defense kind of got the offense more during the team periods yesterday, and I thought the offense did a good job today, making plays.” … In the quarterback competition, redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle and redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. both made strong throws downfield. Incumbent starter Peyton Ramsey had a pass over the middle intercepted by defensive back A’Shon Riggins but also led the Hoosiers to a field goal drive during a two-minute drill at the end of practice. ““Peyton showed great poise at the end, just kind of manufacturing that drive to get down the field in the two-minute,” Allen said. “I thought Michael made some good throws. I thought Jack had some good throws as well.” … Hagen has been pleased with the play of JUCO transfer defensive lineman Demarcus Elliott early in camp. “He’s not a great athlete, but he is a high, high effort guy,” Hagen said. “He’s just relentless in how he plays. I love it. I think it can rub off on everybody.” … Freshman defensive lineman Antoine Whitner Jr. is still waiting to be cleared and has yet to suit up for practice. “There’s an important meeting (Monday) about getting some things squared away so it’s getting closer,” Allen said. “So, hopefully, he’ll be here soon.” … The Big Ten Network attended Monday’s practice as part of its preseason caravan of all 14 conference football teams. Former IU football coach Gerry DiNardo, now a Big Ten Network football analyst, attended practice.