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Johnson & Johnson: What can the two Tiger newcomers on the Offensive Line bring to the table in 2023?

Cam’Ron and Marcellus Johnson could bolster an offensive line that was average in the passing and running games.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-UL Lafayette at Houston
Cam’Ron Johnson seen celebrating with his Houston teammates after a touchdown in the Independence Bowl
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Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species way back in 1859, but the term “evolution” has been used to describe many things. Evolution can be plentiful or scarce, and one position group’s evaluation in football’s evolution has been nothing but scarce. That unit is the offensive line.

I will be analyzing the potential impacts Houston transfer Cam’Ron Johnson and Eastern Michigan transfer Marcellus Johnson can have on Eliah Drinkwitz’s offensive line unit. A unit, which you know, had plenty of trouble last season.

Cam’Ron Johnson

Analytics Study

Cam’Ron Johnson, who has been seen lining up primarily at the center position is, in my opinion, the best find of the offseason for Coach Drinkwitz’s staff.

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For a reference to what these stats and percentiles mean, here is a link to my substack where I explain all of it! If you want to purchase the sheet which contains all these cards, tiers can be found on my Patreon.

Moving on. Johnson brings premium pass-blocking prowess and comes from a unit that was in the Top 5th Percentile in college football in run-blocking efficiency. Where his weakness (that may not even be a weakness, depending on who you ask) lies is that more often times than not, he’d rather give up a penalty than a pressure or a sack as he has one of the highest penalty rates of any offensive lineman in the country.

An interesting snippet of information in relation to his penalty percentile, though is that Houston’s offensive line as a whole averaged around the 12th percentile in penalties, meaning that their offensive linemen’s penalty issues could be schematic. It’s definitely possible that their unit is taught to take the penalty rather than the sack, and as you’ll see later in the film study section a lot of their linemen grab around the shoulders in pass-blocking sets.

Johnson is set to compete with Connor Tollison for the center nod this season, and personally, I’d be very shocked if he doesn’t get the nod over Tollison.

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While Tollison’s numbers came against the SEC and Johnson’s came against the AAC, there is a significant difference in the value that Johnson brings as a run blocker in comparison to Johnson. It was a common occurrence last season, where run plays in particular would be stuffed through the middle where Tollison was placed.

In addition, Tollison doesn’t exactly have a large edge over Johnson when it comes to his discipline, as he is also one of the leaders in penalty rates amongst offensive linemen.

Film Study

Cam’Ron Johnson Pass Blocking as a LG against Memphis (2022)

The situation above is a perfect encapsulation of what Cam’Ron Johnson (#73) can bring to the table as a pass block. He stays in front of his man, has quick feet, and is very strong on the defensive end, which is a big reason why his QB Clayton Tune had some of the best pass protection in college football last season.

One thing to note about Johnson in pass-blocking situations is he can often get his arms around the shoulders of who he is blocking and when they get past him he won’t let go, which is why he racks up so many penalties. That is certainly something the Tigers’ staff can work on, though.

Cam’Ron Johnson being utilized as a lead blocker against Memphis (2022)

From the same game, we can see Johnson as the lead blocker, mowing through one man and taking care of another, leading to a big gain for his tailback, Brandon Campbell.

Nathaniel Peat and Cody Schrader both had tough years for the Tigers where not much was really possible within the running game, so having a guy like Johnson who can be an efficient lead blocker in the middle of the line will be a huge asset to their improvement. If the Tigers can even get even a sliver of that production from Johnson, whp helped his unit be in the Top 24th percentile of OL units in line yards, you can expect a noticeable change in the Tigers' ability in the trenches.

Marcellus Johnson

Analytics Study

Marcellus Johnson has been lining up primarily at RT in training camp, which is where we saw Armand Membou line up last season.

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Marcellus is not as well-rounded as Cam’Ron, but he brings a big help to the running game as he was one of the best run-blocking tackles in the MAC last season. His unit was one of the top units in power running situations (3rd/4th down/goal with two yards or less to gain) in the country. He will look to bring that power success to the Tigers, who were in the measly 12th percentile in that category in 2022.

Pass blocking-wise, however, Johnson had a tough time saving his QB from getting pressured or hit this season, which raises some warranted question marks about how well he can protect Brady Cook (or whomever the Tigers' full-time starter will be).

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He replaces Armand Membou at that right tackle spot. Membou was one of the few bright spots on last year’s unit, as he excelled in the pass-blocking game whilst being above average as a run blocker. Nonetheless, still being able to have Membou on the line even if he were to play right guard is still a great thing, as it means the running game will have a significant augmentation in production.

Film Study

Eastern Michigan running a Wildcat keeper right behind Johnson in a power running situation against San Jose State (2022)

In the play above, you can see Johnson (#71) creating a wide-open hole in a goal-line situation with ease. His body positioning and ability to face his back towards the gap and act as a shield in these power-running situations is remarkable, and is easily the best asset of his game.

Eastern Michigan running an inside zone play right behind Johnson again in the same game with a similar situation against San Jose State (2022)

Right here we can see in a very similar situation. Johnson is used as the lead blocker and he absolutely manhandles #92 en route to an easy touchdown for Eastern Michigan. It really is amazing to see how efficient Eastern’s red zone offense was (95.6%), and a lot of that is thanks to Johnson.

Marcellus Johnson getting burned on the outside at LT leading to a sack against San Jose State (2022)

On this play, you can see why his pass-blocking numbers aren’t exemplary, as he gets burned on the outside by San Jose State’s edge rusher. His biggest weakness is his quickness while shuffling backward, and this can pose a problem in the future against the SEC’s best pass rushers who can abuse something like this all day long.

Closing Statements

All in all, Cam’Ron and Marcellus Johnson both help the Tigers' offensive line in their own ways this season, but both are far from perfect in their game and still have weaknesses to exploit.

Of the two, I see Cam’Ron as the one who is going to bring the most value and impact to the new-look offensive line, but I would be very shocked if Marcellus Johnson doesn’t significantly improve the Tigers' red zone efficiency.