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Barry Hirstius

Saints Wide Receivers Coach Curtis “CJ” Johnson Ain’t Taking No Mess

If there's been any one thing that has truly stood so far during the 1st week of Saints Training Camp, it's definitely been the play of the team's wide receivers position; and especially the team's less publicized players who are currently behind star WR's Michael Thomas and Willie Snead on the depth chart.

The first week of practice in particular has been highlighted by the play of the team's #4 and #5 WR spots, and the two young men currently at those spots, 3rd year player Brandon Coleman and 4th year player Corey Fuller.

Coleman has likely been the true "star" of Training Camp thus far, and appears to be playing the best football he has since the Saints originally signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Fuller, whom the Saints signed off the Lions Practice Squad at the tail end of last season, is having an almost equally impressive Camp on par with Coleman.

And both young players' performances are no doubt the result that has come under the steady hand and guidance of wide receivers coach Curtis 'CJ" Johnson, who has returned to the Saints coaching staff this year after a year spent as the WR's coach for the Chicago Bears, which followed his firing as the head coach of nearby Tulane University in uptown New Orleans --- where he coached from 2012 thru 2015.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Before taking over at Tulane, Johnson had previously served as a member of head coach Sean Payton's original Saints coaching staff back in 2006. In his first stint with the team, he coached wide receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and Lance Moore, all of whom went on to solid careers in the NFL.

From 2006 thru 2011, Saints WR's under Johnson combined for 108 total TD's and 35 total games with over 100 yards receiving. He also was part of the coaching staff for the team that won Super Bowl XLIV following the 2009 season.

Johnson turned down an offer to remain with the Bears in January, and it's his return to the Saints coaching staff this season which no doubt has had some major influence in helping the entire WR corps become better-rounded and more complete players, via his very notable and at times boisterous "hands on approach".

It'a a well known fact among the team's players that Johnson is a no-nonsense type of individual who DEMANDS and expects 100% complete effort on every single play. 

Long story short: Johnson "ain't taking no mess".

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, New Orleans Advocate

It's the reason that Colston, who retired after the 2015 season and is considered the greatest Saints WR of all-time, credits Johnson for helping his career to flourish.

Saints legend has it that when Colston first reported to the team's 2006 Rookie Camp after the team had drafted him with their 7th Round pick that year, he reported out of shape and struggled with the offensive playbook as well as the heat and humidity of the south Louisiana climate.

Colston began complaining openly among his fellow rookie teammates about the conditions, and upon overhearing one of Colston's comments, Johnson LIT UP Colston with an ass-chewing of a lifetime and told him if he didn't get his act together, he would be cut from the team immediately.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Colston quickly got the message, and went on to have the greatest single-season performance by a Saints rookie in the team's entire history.

Perhaps that same no-nonsense, "ain't taking no mess" approach has never been more evident however with the performance of Coleman, who has the physical tools (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) to be a very special player at the NFL level but has struggled with inconsistency. 

Johnson has been working closely alongside Coleman with both his receiving technique, and perhaps more importantly: his self-confidence.

It's often said that a little self-confidence can go a very long way, which may explain the notable difference in demeanor seen from Coleman in these past few days of Camp.

Unlike perhaps any other assistant coach in the League, Johnson "gets inside" of players' heads --- and gets them to focus and place more emphasis on the mental aspects of the game, as much as the physical ones.

However, Johnson told WWL New Orleans radio co-host and football analyst Mike Detillier that the credit for Coleman's stellar performance was just as much his own through hard work and dedication this off-season.

"I'm here to smooth out some elements, but hard work, dedication, and concentration --- that's all Brandon".

Johnson told Detillier that he had major back surgery in May, and gave additional credit to offensive assistant Ronald Curry for helping him develop the young Saints WR corps as an entire group.

Canal Street Chronicles managing editor and lead football analyst John J. Hendrix noted the other day that from his own personal observations through the first 2 days of Camp, that Johnson made it a point to make his receivers repeat drills to perfect them, and no one has been excluded.

That included star #1 WR Michael Thomas, who was forced to sit out one series of drills because Johnson felt as if the young superstar hadn't performed them as well as he could have done them.

Yesterday, he was seen talking off to the side with Fuller; who just as much as Coleman, has benefitted greatly from Johnson's influence.

“He’s a veteran coach. He’s going to get the most out of everybody. He’s going to coach you hard. You just have to take the coaching,” 3rd year WR Willie Snead told Detillier, Hendrix and the rest of the assembled media over the weekend.

“I haven’t had a coach like Curtis (Johnson) before, so it’s an adjustment for me and I know it’s adjustment for the other guys as well. He is definitely a coach that’s going to change how you play, and if you listen to what he has to say then he’s going to make you into a better receiver.”

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

It goes without saying, that each and every one of the Saints WR's have been listening, and the results are clearly evident. 

That certainly bodes well for a Saints offense that was expected to perhaps experience a slight drop-off in overall performance at the WR position due to the loss of former WR and 2014 top draft pick Brandin Cooks, who was traded in the off-season to the New England Patriots.

"We brought in guys like Corey Fuller; we've got Ted Ginn, I mean, he's a great player in this league. I'm getting better; Michael Thomas is in his second year. We've got weapons that can fill the space Cooks left," Snead said. "It's hard to replace Cooks, because he's one-of-a-kind, but in this offense, at the end of the day, is about plugging guys in."

And to Snead's point: 'plugging in' Coleman and Fuller could negate the loss of Cooks to the Patriots; and if that does happen to be the case, then there's one man who will deserve credit for that happening.

Coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson is now back in the fold for the New Orleans Saints, and be forewarned:

He "ain't taking no mess"................

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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