Jerrod Johnson stood a few yards behind the Texans’ backfield, giving him the perfect vantage point to intently watch what rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud was seeing unfold in front of him during a two-minute drill.
As Stroud went through his progressions, reading the defense before decisively delivering a strike to wide receiver Amari Rodgers as he hit him in stride over the middle for a touchdown pass Tuesday morning in an organized team activity, Johnson was visibly happy as he smiled and clapped his hands.
As the Texans’ first-year quarterbacks coach, Johnson has been tasked with a pivotal, plum assignment: developing and building the skills and knowledge of Stroud, the second overall pick of the draft and a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist from Ohio State,
Although Stroud is expected to ultimately ascend to the become the Texans’ starting quarterback after working with the second-team offense Tuesday one week after running the first-team offense, he wont be handed anything. He’ll have to earn the QB1 status, and it’s Johnson’s job to coach Stroud along with incumbent starter Davis Mills and veteran backup Case Keenum.
A former record-setting Texas A&M quarterback who also played for the Aggies basketball team, Johnson is embracing this opportunity as the Humble High School graduate coaches for his hometown team.
“I see myself as a teacher,” Johnson told KPRC 2. “My biggest thing is I want to teach. Whatever is needed of the players in the room, from Case, to Davis, to C.J., whatever I can do to teach and give them whatever they need, I try to be transparent and open and honest with them.
“I really want feedback from them. Does this feel comfortable or does it not feel comfortable? It’s a back-and-forth, but, at the same time, we have a strong room with guys who are smart and who care. Anytime you have guys like that, it’s a joy to coach them.”
After playing for his late father, Larry Johnson, in high school, excelling for the Aggies, then playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl all-star game and going undrafted, Johnson played quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Hartford Colonials, and Sacramento Mountain Lions.
Now, Johnson, 34, is a rising NFL assistant coach. After a stint last year as the Minnesota Vikings’ assistant quarterbacks coach last season, working closely with coach Kevin O’Connell and veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, he interviewed for the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator job that went to former Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
His roots in Humble are what built Johnson into a coach.
“It meant everything,” Johnson said. “My dad was a coach there, and a principal there. That’s our family roots. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the village of people who raised me in Humble, Texas. I’m forever indebted to Humble and I love my hometown and that’s the foundation of who I am as a person.”
Coaching for his hometown team is emotionally significant for Johnson as he and his wife, Braidee, are the parents of a newborn baby girl. Jersie Drew Johnson was born April 18, shortly before the NFL draft.
“It’s really special, especially with my family, my wife Braidee and our little girl, for me to get the opportunity to do what I love in the city that I grew up in,” Johnson said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m really blessed. It’s an emotional thing to be around my family and have our family around our newborn. For us to start our family in my hometown is a godsend.”
Johnson participated in the NFL Coach Accelerator program in Minneapolis as one of 40 diverse coaches selected for their high potential to be considered as a potential head coaching candidate in the future.. The Coach Accelerator program aims to increase exposure between owners, executives, and diverse coaching talent, providing ample opportunity to develop and build upon their relationships
“it was a unique experience,” Johnson said. “It’s a couple of days to think in a different framework, to understand the big picture of the NFL and the things that go into potentially advancing in a career. Being a position coach, we love diving in and getting into the X’s and O’s. That’s why I love ball.
“To be exposed to some great coaches and older coaches who have been through a lot and even some of the professional development they did in dealing with all the aspects in dealing with the NFL, I think it’s going to be good for my career. We had a round table where we met several owners from around the league. That was unique in itself. I never knew that I would have the opportunity to do that and they were very gracious to be open and talk with us and learn about us.”
Johnson, who also coached for the San Francisco 49ers under a Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship, was promoted two years ago to his previous role with the Colts. And the former St. Thomas High School assistant head coach and offensive coordinator interviewed two years ago for the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterbacks coaching position.
Johnson is a former Indianapolis Colts offensive quality control coach who worked his way up into a full-time position on the coaching staff following an internship.
Perhaps Johnson will make a fast rise in the coaching ranks and become an offensive coordinator one day, or even an NFL head coach.
“I aspire, absolutely,” Johnson said. “I think every coach aspires to get to that point. The cool thing is that you don’t go in there without winning. It’s a team game. I grew up playing, and I’m here to help the quarterbacks get better. If you do a good job, good things will happen. I pour into the players. I pour into the coaches, and that’s all that matters right now..”
Johnson finished his college career with a school-record of 8,011 passing yards and 8,888 yards of total offense and also played on the Aggies basketball team. A second-team All-Big 12 selection, Johnson was the program’s all-time leader in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns before Kellen Mond broke those records
Working with an accomplished passer like Cousins and learning from O’Connell, a former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator and NFL backup quarterback, was an important step for Johnson..
“With Kirk, he’s the ultimate professional,” Johnson said. “He prepares. Anytime you can get around a guy like that, you try to share that with other quarterbacks. Kevin was very good to me. He’s a special coach and a special football mind and he has an attacking way of offensive football. I learned a lot how to prep, how to see the passing game, all those different things. I learned a lot in Minnesota and I’m forever indebted to Kevin O’Connell for giving me that opportunity.”
Johnson first coached Stroud at the prestigious Elite 11 camp when Stroud was a high school player in California in 2019. Johnson coached at the East-West Shrine Bowl this year.
“I met C.J. at a young age,” Johnson said. “To meet him at 17 and go through the draft process with all the other quarterbacks and to see him now as an adult, as a mature kid who’s been through a lot on the field and off the field, to see the man he’s become, it’s good to have that reference point. I’m excited for his future.”
The education of Stroud is an ongoing project. He asks a lot of questions, quizzing offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, Johnson, coach DeMeco Ryans along with defensive coordinator Matt Burke and the Texans’ defensive backs.
As he learns on the job, Stroud is involved in a detailed process.
“They’ve been very methodical and want to get me to learn it step by step, just like how they would teach anybody else,” Stroud said. “I feel like I’ve tried to do a lot of work on my own, so when I come back the next day, I have that to put in the bank to be able to move on to the next install, whatever it is.
“Bobby and Jerrod have done a great job. Coach Slow is a great young mind and an amazing play caller. Excited to work with him and Jerrod, who of course I worked with before. It’s exciting to be back and see a similar face and just get more in depth with what he knows about the game and the knowledge he brings.”
The goal for the organized team activities and a full-team minicamp is simple, to get Stroud up to speed on the intricacies of an NFL playbook and everything that goes into being a candidate for a starting job as a rookie.
“We just want him to be comfortable and confident in what we’re asking him to do,” Johnson said. “We just want him to be the best version of himself. That’s what the spring is about getting reps and being confident in how they play the game and operate in our system.
“All I can talk about is the spring. I just want him to leave the spring with the confidence in our system and how we want him to play. Hopefully better every day and walk out with confidence.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.