Jayhawk Slant talked with Basehor-Linwood head football coach Steve Hopkins about tight end Ben Johnson. On Thursday Johnson became the first Kansas commit for the 2013 class.
While most fans watching Ben's film remark on his receiving skills, talk about him as a blocker?
He is not just a wide receiver playing tight end. We counted on him to get to the edge and control the edge. As he got better we began to use him as a lead blocking fullback. In week five or six I think he was really sold on that and one game he scored a couple of touchdowns but I think he had more fun with the lead blocking part of it and that really told me that he has arrived as not just a catcher but a tight end. That really carried on all the way through the season.
He has always been a tight end for us even when he was a freshman. At that time he was really skinny and wasn't real confident of where he was and what he was doing. He caught touchdown passes as a freshman but we couldn't count on him to him to handle the blocking component but as a sophomore he got better and we felt like in this last year in our league that he was dominant. Even if he wouldn't have caught a touchdown pass he still would've been the best tight end in just the way that he blocked.
How much good weight do you think Ben can add?
He is only a junior and we anticipate at least 8 or 10 more pounds. He is working really hard in the weight room but he is playing a lot of basketball right now and he is going to be doing track this spring. I am the track coach and he will be doing the high jump for us. He is not going to be able to put on the type of weight that he will when he gets to college. I think once he gets to college I don't see why he can't be a 240-250-pound kid who can still catch the ball and run the routes like they want him to run. He will still be an exceptional blocker and Coach Grunhard thinks that will be what sets Ben apart from other prospects.
Talk about the process Tim Grunhard used in recruiting Ben?
He let us know from the very beginning because we had a couple of other young men who were offered by the previous staff but when that fell apart and they decided to focus on basketball. Tim came in and made it known that there were no hard feelings and that they were really excited about Ben. This was in January after Coach Weis was hired. He immediately began to recruit him heavily. Ben is one of the better receivers I have ever coached and I coached some receivers at Blue Springs who are in the NFL like Brandon Lloyd. Ben catches the ball better than any of those guys. I think that showed Coach Weis and his staff that you don't always have to go to Florida, California or Texas and there are some young men right here who can play. Tim has made it clear to me that Kansas is an area they really want to have a presence in.
How will Ben fit in KU's offense?
Coach Grunhard told Ben that Charlie wants to give you a message that your assignment is to watch New England in the playoffs and how they use their tight ends. That's why Ben was interested in Kansas compared to some of the other opportunities because when he watched New England and the type of offense that Coach Weis wants to run, he doesn't have to watch very long to see Rob Gronkowski catch passes. A lot of places have gone to the spread where the tight end is just another wide receiver and Ben is good at that but his advantage is when he puts his hand on the ground and blocks the edge. Every week Ben would come in and say he watched Gronkowski do this or that and it was exciting for him.
How has track helped Ben's football game?
High jumping over six feet when you weigh 220 pounds is unusual. He also throws the shot put and he is so explosive. We feel he is always open from his elbow up. Our quarterbacks have understood that he may looked covered but they need to throw it nine and a half feet over his head and he will go get it. Our quarterback Colin Murphy last year developed a great deal of trust in him and our quarterbacks next year are excited to play with him. Track does help. That explosion and ability to go up and keep your body under control is really a parallel skill.
What does Ben need to improve on the most?
He really has to continue to improve in his route running. He will tell you that he can run two or three of our tight end specific routes really well but there are other things we want to use him for and he needs to learn how to break off his routes more crisply and find holes in the zone. I think he is going to get double covered so much that he is going to get better at releasing on the line. He has to learn some routes he isn't used to or we are going to have trouble getting him the ball because teams are going to double cover him next year.
What type of offense does Basehor-Linwood run?
We are 50/50. Half the time we are under center in the I-formation and Ben is a tight end and we are going to go where he's at and the other fifty percent we are in a one back spread and Ben can be anywhere. He can be a one back, a tight end, a wide receiver or in the slot and it helps we can move him around. We aren't going to get away though from lining up in the I and running at people because we got good people to do that with and Ben is a good blocker.
Johnson talks about decision
On Thursday night we first talked with Johnson about his decision to pick Kansas. Click here to read his story.