Vanderbilt offensive tackle Wesley Johnson has played a long, distinguished career in the SEC and been part of arguably the most successful senior class in the history of the football program. After a win in the BBVA Compass Bowl, Johnson was invited to play at the Reese’s Senior Bowl down in Mobile. Johnson has been one of the steadier, yet unheralded offensive linemen in this draft class in spite of the fact he has been able to play at a high level in the most notable conference in college football.
In talking to Wesley, we discussed his game, the change in culture at Vanderbilt during his career, some of his teammates, the movie Rudy, McDonald’s breakfast, and why he believes he will be successful at the next level.
Peter Smith: Why did you choose to go to Vanderbilt?
Wesley Johnson: Well, it was really between Vanderbilt and Auburn. Vanderbilt was kind of coming off of a high in terms of their football program. They had just won their first bowl game in God knows how many years. I wanted to hop on that. And obviously the education is a huge bonus if football ends up not working out, it’s something great that I can fall back on.
PS: I heard talk that you were bitter at the fact you couldn’t cut block down at the Senior Bowl.
WJ: Yea, I would have liked to have, yea, absolutely (laughs). Feel like that’s one of the better parts of my game.
PS: Who is it you wanted to cut?
WJ: Everybody. I mean, you know, being an offensive lineman, it’s kind of the great equalizer because you’re not as fast as the small guys and if you can just cut on them, it gets rid of that.
PS: Watching your tape and for not being as fast, those first few steps, your burst and straight line resemble a tight end.
WJ: Appreciate it. Yea, I dunno. Thank you. Yea, I would have liked to have cut. Plus, cutting is kind of a good feeling. It’s kind of sinister when you get a good one, so it’s satisfying.
PS: I had a chance to watch you against Jadeveon Clowney, so for people who are questioning his motor, as someone who faced him, what do you think?
WJ: I don’t know what people are talking about. I guess it’s easy for people to say he’s taking a play off when he’s getting triple teamed, which is understandable. He has the quickest first step of anyone I’ve ever played and he’s obviously one of the bigger defensive ends I’ve ever played too. He went hard and he was a good football player. He understood it well. So I thought all of that talk was just talk.
PS: It didn’t look like you had two guys helping you out most of the game.
WJ: Yea, I kinda relished that opportunity, because he’s, you know, he’s Jadeveon Clowney. Three games before was the bowl game where he knocked that guy’s helmet off, so I was looking forward to that and I think the coaches knew that I was going to be ready for that challenge.
PS: If I was to say that you can end up playing too tall and can have some trouble getting behind your pads at times, would that be fair?
WJ: Yea, I think that’s fair. There are definitely times where I think I do that, you know, whether I’m being inconsistent or not. But then again, saying that, I’ve said cut blocking is one of the good parts of my game; the favorite. My favorite part of playing offensive line and what I think is the best part of my game, what I take the most pride in is blocking on the goal line. When I’m blocking on the goal line, I bend to where my nose is three inches off the ground.
PS: Yea, noticed that. You have a totally different stance, don’t you? It’s almost like a four point stance for a defensive lineman.
WJ: Yea, my old high school coach said, when you’re on goal line, you’ve got roodog them out, so I get as low as I can and roodog them out.
PS: You seem to have a noticeable motor on the field for an offensive lineman. Finishing a block, helping guys up off of the pile or whatever, you seem to always be the first guy there.
WJ: Yes sir. I guess I was small early in my career, so I had to find ways to bring value. And being a prick is a good way to bring value as an offensive lineman. Being chippy like that.
PS: You were listed at 295 for the season and just short of 300 for the Senior Bowl. Where are you now with your weight and where are you hoping to be for your rookie year?
WJ: I was 303 at a workout with the (Tennessee)Titans workout and 302 on Pro Day. Those were my last two measurements. I’m happy right there. I kinda told myself that when I got over 300, that I was done gaining weight for a while. It’s the first time since high school, so I’m happy where I’m at. If I team wants me to gain weight, I have no problem gaining another 10 to 15 pounds. If they want me to lose weight, I can lose weight.
PS: When you got to high school, did you play another position and they sort of made you into a lineman?
WJ: Yea, I was actually a quarterback (laughs). I was the same height. I was 180lbs. And I played defensive and eventually played offensive line.
PS: Did you ever give the Vanderbilt quarterbacks a run for their money?
WJ: Oh yea, all the time. We do center-quarterback exchanges every day before practice. I’m always trying to get in their grill about it. I’m always trying to get into the throwing drills they have and stuff.
PS: Are the type of guy who can stun a bear from 20 paces? Someone who just likes to rifle it.
WJ: (laughs) Yea, absolutely.
PS: Where all have you played during your career?
WJ: Redshirt freshman year, I played left tackle the whole season. My sophomore year is when I played center andguard probably half the games and then left tackle the other half of the games. And then the rest of the time I was a left tackle with some right tackle mixed in junior year.
PS: Down in Mobile, you got worked out at everything, right?
WJ: Yea, yes sir.
PS: Is there a leaning from teams that you feel like they have a spot for you in mind or are you getting feedback for all three spots?
WJ: Initially, I thought teams were pretty set on me moving inside, but having worked out with the teams that I’ve worked out with, they’ve all said, you know, we do think you could play tackle. And after talking to them, I know I can play tackle. I think my feet are there. The only thing I would have to work on is my hands; being able to make up for the fact that I’m not 330lbs. Just trying to improve in terms of getting to the guy and striking the right way and that just comes from maturation in the offensive line.
PS: In what I’ve watched, it seems like you have a lot of pride in your punch.
WJ: A little bit. I think that’s something I have to work on. Maybe not the punch, but what happens after the punch. So my hands get swatted down and I have to run a guy. I need to replace it better.
PS: You play tackle, but do you feel like you have the mindset more of a stereotypical guard as far as being that road grading type guy?
WJ: I’m not sure. I think I’d actually be more comfortable at center, because when you’re playing center, you kinda have the reins to the offensive line morso than at guard or tackle. If I’m at left tackle or left guard, I can really only control or work with the left side of the line, but if I’m at center, I can control all five guys and kinda make sure everyone is on the same page. I think I’d feel more comfortable doing that.
PS: You have arguably the most successful senior class in the school’s history, so what has been the change in and around campus as far as the football is concerned.
WJ: I grew up in Nashville, so I didn’t really think twice about Vanderbilt games, you know. I wasn’t going to go unless I got a free ticket or something like that. It just wasn’t a popular thing. And when I went there, we went 2-10, adding on to the idea of that some ole Vanderbilt. And now, things have changed. We have respect.
We went to Tennessee this past season. The fans were there three hours before the game booing us as we got off the bus. They were throwing stuff at us as we were walking off the field. We had to be escorted off the field, so I guess there’s a lot more respect around the program. That is what we needed and I think we pretty much got it now.
PS: Since you grew up in Nashville, were you a Tennessee guy growing up?
WJ: No, absolutely not. No, I was actually probably a Notre Dame guy because I was catholic. But once I got into high school, I became an SEC fan.
PS: Isn’t that sort of anaethma down there to be a Notre Dame fan?
WJ: It’d definitely be weirder now, because of the way Notre Dame has been overhyped. When you’re catholic, I guess it’s completely different, because Notre Dame is a national school. Growing up, Rudy was my favorite movie.
PS: How much does it bother you that so much of Rudy was Disney-fied versus what actually happened?
WJ: That’s another thing that made me stop being a fan, so yea, it bothered me a lot actually. He came on a radio station and was like, yea, most of that story was made up to make it a better story. I was like, you can’t do that, you know?
PS: So the fact Rudy wasn’t real killed you on being a Notre Dame fan?
WJ: It was one of the things, yea.
PS: So if you weren’t a Tennessee fan growing up, was it that much more satisfying to beat them twice?
WJ: Yea, absolutely. Beating UT twice was definitely one of the best parts of my time in college.