LA's 'Landlord' leads the Wildcats
HOUSTON -- Get off the field!
Get off the field!
They ain’t got no short yardage yet!
Those were the echoing roars of defensive end Anthony Johnson, the self-appointed leader of the Los Angeles Wildcats, after his unit blew up yet another offensive set.
Gotta let ‘em know who’s in charge.
“I feel like I am the leader of this team,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s morning training camp session at Texas Southern University’s Durley Stadium. “At the end of the day, I walk that way. I present myself that way and the coaches give me that opportunity to do so. I just try to go out there and be myself every day, be an energetic guy, be a playmaker and be a leader the guys can follow.”
The Wildcats begin the season on the road at the Houston Roughnecks as part of XFL Opening Weekend on Feb. 8. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET on FOX.
Johnson isn’t wasting any time putting his stamp on the proceedings. His booming voice seems to carry as much weight as just about any coach.
His joy is without limit.
His intensity is contagious.
“Our identity and what we’ll be doing is being nasty and physical and to be ferocious,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day we’ll be a physical group. You can’t go out there tip-toeing. You gotta go out there and lay the lumber, and that’s what we plan on doing.”
Johnson laid out many during his days at LSU, leaving the Tigers after his junior season for the NFL in 2014. After earning a spot in Miami, he bounced around the league, with stops in New England and the New York Jets, before playing in the AAF and CFL.
"I told people this, I’m the ‘landlord’ for a reason. You’ve never heard Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Kobe, nobody say that. We’re going to win some championships with the Wildcats."
Injuries have taken a toll on Johnson, who’s had several stints on the IR throughout this career. The XFL’s recently-announced rules, designed in many ways to increase player safety, are a welcome change for Johnson.
“It’s made the game a bit safer,” he said. “I was one of those guys running 60 yards down on kickoff in the NFL at 270 pounds and breaking guys down that are 180. It’s unfair for those guys a little bit. I feel like the rules changes, along with the game itself, is going to be better this year in the XFL. I think it’ll be beneficial for the game in general.”
The Wildcats roster is littered with NFL experience, including quarterback Josh Johnson, kicker Nick Novak, receiver Nelson Spruce and tight end Johnny Stanton.
“There’s some great talent,” Johnson said. “You have my quarterback, Josh Johnson, who can play. You have some guys out here that just want the opportunity. Lot of guys played on NFL teams, some minicamps, and they’re getting the opportunity to get back into the game.
“I think we have a great roster. We just have to keep working and over time we’ll see what we have.”
During one drill Wednesday with the offense backed up near its goal line, Johnson beat the right tackle to the outside and had a clear shot at quarterback Luis Perez. This is camp, of course, so Johnson pulled up, avoiding any unnecessary collision.
That didn’t stop the guy nicknamed “The Freak” at LSU from breaking out his “safety dance” for the would-be sack in the end zone.
“Yessir, yessir, I’ve got a couple dances,” he said.
“It’s just been a joyous experience. Camp has been going well the last couple of days and to be out here every day with the younger guys … it’s been a good experience for us.”
Practice observers have noted the defense appears ahead of the offense in the early going. Wildcats coach/general manager Winston Moss scoffed at that idea, instead focusing on the overall team.
“Really, it’s not about who’s ahead of who, it’s about getting better every day,” he said. “Everybody has got to take ownership to get better every day. There’s no defense ahead of nobody. There’s no offense that’s lacking. There’s only getting better.”
Johnson reiterated as much.
“As a team you have to work together day in and day out to get on the same page,” he said. “Our offense is working diligently. (Offensive coordinator Norm Chow) and the quarterbacks are working hard to get that offensive line and those receivers together.
“And like I always like to say, slow and steady wins the race. It’s a marathon. Just take your time. Our offense will get on track.”
The marathon begins in a month and lasts for 10 weeks during the regular season. Johnson’s goal is not unlike many of his peers throughout the XFL, though there’s the added self-imposed pressure of playing in Southern California.
To that end, he’s given himself another nickname to stake his claim in LA.
“It’s the city of champions. You better believe it,” he said. “I told people this, I’m the ‘landlord’ for a reason. You’ve never heard Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaq, Kobe, nobody say that. We’re going to win some championships with the Wildcats.”