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Steelers Interviews

Former Baltimore LB Jarret Johnson Talks Steelers-Ravens Rivalry

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Our rivalry series continues with this week’s match-up against the Steelers’ biggest rival of the current era, the Baltimore Ravens. In today’s interview, Ron spoke with former Ravens linebacker from Jarret Johnson, who played with Baltimore from 2003-11.

First, let us know what you’re up to these days since you retired?

Well I’m living now in Denton, Florida. My wife and I both have family close to here. I’m still doing radio for the Ravens, too so I’m traveling a lot with the team and am in Baltimore quite a bit.

I’ve been doing a bit of everything outside of that. I’ve done some real estate and got my captain’s license too. I own a charter fishing boat but have backed off of that a bit lately.

I also coach some middle school football and am a soccer dad – my daughter plays soccer so I travel a lot for that too.

How hard was that post-NFL transition for you?

It’s definitely nothing to be taken lightly. I was 33 when I retired. You’d like to think you could just fish every day now and be happy, but it doesn’t work that way. I miss the structure of football and the team. You’re left by yourself and your own thoughts. You realize you still need a purpose. You need to find something that gives you that. You play for years in the NFL, every day with a reason to be there. You need something after football as well. If you’re just floating around you’ll struggle.

Looking at the NFL rivalries – was the Steelers versus Ravens more intense for fans or players, do you think?

I kind of think it’s changed over the years. I played in 2003 to 2011. The Steelers then had guys like Plaxico Burress, Joey Porter, Hines Ward. We had issues in the parking lot, issues at the coin toss – trash-talking during warmups.

There were guys I just didn’t care for — Ward, some of the offensive linemen — some of the things those guys did, especially Hines did on the field created some hatred. We generally didn’t like each other. But for the most part we did have respect for each other. We were so similar personality-wise. We were both physical, both had big, tough guys like James Harrison. And if Hines was on my team he’d probably have been a good friend, as much as it pains me to say it.

Now, with the evolution of the game, there’s so much player turnover. I hope it’s as intense, I just don’t know. It’s a younger generation. It’s just different. With their love of social media, marketing and selling their own brand — look at how good my haircut looks, that stuff — it’s hard to take it as seriously.

What did the coaching staff do to help you prepare differently for Steelers games?

If the coaches had to get you psyched up to play the Steelers then you were going to get your ass kicked. Whether we slung the ball 50 times or ran the power offense, we knew it would be physical. The one thing he would tell us is that we had to be more aggressive against the Steelers than against any other team. They were clear about that.

One unique thing we tried against the Steelers. Ben had an uncanny ability to be even more accurate when the play broke down and he threw on the run. He didn’t look like a running quarterback but he was so good that way. Most quarterbacks are accurate on seven-on-sevens, but hit them in the mouth a couple of times and that accuracy drops. Having a couple of Neanderthals chasing them and they are even less accurate. But not Ben.

So once the coaches decided to not really rush him – to keep him on the pocket and make him stand there. I don’t think that worked though – I think we lost that game!

Who were some of the guys you liked to line up against and enjoyed facing?

The tight ends were always fun to face. David Johnson was a real physical tight end – and Heath Miller may have been the best all-around tight end I ever faced. Matt Spaeth was good too. The Steelers always had those big, physical blocking tight ends. A lot of teams didn’t use those guys. Both those were guys I enjoyed going up against.

Hines, of course, ratcheted the intensity up a notch. He was such an iconic Steelers player. And I was friends with Chris Kemoeatu’s brother who was on the Ravens. He was tough to play – he would cut you, punch you, do anything he could to you. I’d yell at him to stop, that I was friends with his brother!

There were a lot of tough guys on those teams. When the offense was playing I liked sitting back and watching a great defense play then go out on the field and be a part of another great defense.

And the rivalry today – what do you think of that?

I don’t know. I’ll take out my typical older guy card and say that it’s not as intense as it used to be. There were lots of character then, but now the character are more for negative reasons. The Steelers just let a couple of those kinds of guys go. The holding out and look at me crap… All battles need heroes and villains – I’m just not sure who those are anymore.

I would like to think the rivalry is as intense and physical as it used to be too. But the way the CBA is built now I don’t think it is. Maybe again I’m just being old school. But it’s hard now to be as physical. I don’ think it’s due to a lack of willingness to be physical, either. But it’s hard when you’re worried about angles and head placement and penalties. It’s good to get rid of some things and make the game better and safer, but in my opinion it can make the game hard to watch – especially those preseason games. I just wish they’d let them play a bit.

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