TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – By his own admission, Roderick Johnson is one of the quietest players on the Florida State football team. The quiet approach has served him well – the junior left tackle has already racked up a career’s worth of awards and accolades in just two years at Florida State and could be in line for more in 2016. But as he enters his third year in the program, Johnson is looking to make improvements not so much with his arms or his legs, but with his mouth.
“He needs to learn to be a better communicator,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He’s very smart, but he doesn’t talk enough.”
Talking doesn’t exactly come natural for Johnson, who, at 6-7, 307 pounds, is as soft-spoken as he is oversized.
Johnson has never had much trouble leading by example. His Jacobs Blocking Trophy (presented to the ACC’s best lineman) and first-team all-conference honors are testaments to that.
Now Fisher wants to see Johnson become a player that his fellow linemen can rally around.
“(Fisher) gets on me about being more verbal, stepping out of my comfort zone, and that’s what I have to do,” Johnson said. “I have to pick guys up when they’re down. Cheer them on, just take on more leadership roles.”
Encouraging teammates is only part of that picture.
Communication along the offensive line also takes place before a play, where linemen identify blitzers, call out protections and signal for double-teams or combo blocks.
It sounds basic enough. But in a hostile environment like Florida or Clemson, it can be the difference between a good day and a disaster up front.
“It’s completely different (when the line communicates),” junior tight end Ryan Izzo said. “Some plays, you don’t always get the signals. … If everybody’s not always communicating, you’re not always on the same page. When you’re communicating well, the team is together.”
From his spot at tight end, Izzo has a front-row seat for everything that happens on the line and, so far, he said the difference is plain to see. Or hear.
“I see the line communicating a lot better,” Izzo said. “I see Rod stepping up as a leader. I see (center) Alec (Eberle), too. I think communication is one of those things we really needed to improve on. Because we had a bunch of young guys out there who didn’t want to talk. And I think, this year, they’re starting to do that more.”
Johnson, of course, isn’t limiting his scope to only the spoken word.
A preseason All-America candidate who is sure to attract attention from pro scouts, Johnson said that he’s working to fine-tune his game from the ground up, starting with fundamentals.
That means making sure his first step is precise, his hands are in the right place and his elbows are locked in tight.
“The little things are where I can become a better player overall,” Johnson said.
“Rod’s a good player, but Rod, to really be an elite player, there’s some steps and things he’s got to do a lot better at,” Fisher said. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way. But, hopefully, he’ll take some steps to be a really good player.”
He’s got plenty of competition in practice to keep him sharp.
Johnson said he often looks up to see both defensive end Josh Sweat and safety Derwin James staring back at him. Blocking either one of that sophomore duo, which features two of FSU’s most promising young defenders, would be challenge enough.
“I’ve got my hands full over there,” Johnson said.
And when he’s not corralling Sweat and James – with a dash of senior DeMarcus Walker mixed in – Johnson is still brushing up on speaking up.
If he needs any pointers, he can always reach out to Jalen Ramsey. The former FSU cornerback, who made an art form out of vocal leadership, is expected in town next week for Pro Day.
“Yeah,” Johnson said with a laugh. “That’s what I’ll have to do.”