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Illinois Week Q&A with Asst. Coach Larry Johnson

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions open their 20th season in the Big Ten on Saturday with a noon kick (ESPN) at Illinois.

As the team puts its final touches on the gameplan, sat down with defensive line coach Larry Johnson to talk about Illinois preparations.

8127662.jpeg You have a lot of hard-working guys in your group right now.  What do you like about coaching this particular group?
: "We have a bunch of guys who are overachievers.  They work hard.  They listen.  I really like their spirit.  They practice hard.  They have a good understanding of the history of our room.  It has really been a blessing to walk into the room every day and see these guys, and then get a chance to see them work hard on the field." What's the biggest thing you feel like your group has improved on since the start of camp?
: "I think being consistent.  You can see from game one to the point we are at right now how consistent we are starting to be." You've had a couple injuries, but that has opened the door for some younger guys to step in and play a lot for you.  What has that done to the overall depth of your unit with the quantity of guys who have stepped in and played this year?
: "It is a great.  It is a two-fold.  It helps us this year, but it will even help us next year.  That has really been a big part of our success.  We have some young guys get playing time, and then they come back next year and will be that much better.  In that sense, having young players play early is really good.  They have all done a great job.  I have been really pleased with the way each guy has stepped in." What is Jordan Hill like to coach?
: "I will tell that he is once in a lifetime guy to get in the room, not only football stuff but he has great character and he is a great kid.  He is a great believer in you.  If you believe in him, he believes in you.  He trusts you.  That says a lot about him.  I think he is a special player.  When you can have those kinds of qualities, you just wish the best for him in everything he does in life.  He deserves a chance to be successful because he works at it.  In the classroom and off the field, he cares about people.  He cares about his teammates.  He is just a special guy to be around." The first thing Coach O'Brien mentions with Jordan is his motor.  When you have a leader who works as hard as he does, what does that do for the younger guys?
: "When you turn a videotape on, you want your senior players to be the yardstick for your younger players to look and say, 'this is how it is supposed to be done.'  And it is nice to be a coach because you can always find a piece on Jordan and say this is how you are supposed to do it.  This how hard you are supposed to work.  He has been around some great players, and he has played with some great players.  So, he has learned that way also.  He's got the yardstick, and he is moving it.  Now, the younger players are watching him." Talk about the way Deion Barnes has evolved.
: "I think Deion has probably been a surprise.  He had some brightness during his freshman year, but he just wasn't quite strong enough to put in the rotation, so we decided to redshirt him.  With what he has brought to the table now, we are just trying to make Deion a complete player - to play the run, to play the pass.  And that is the challenge for young players until they get developed.  He has done a great job, though.  He has stepped in and been in some battles.  The future is really bright for him.  He just needs to continue working and continue to be consistent.  But I am pleased with how he has done so far." What do you like about the way the collective defense has strung together three good games in a row?
: "I think it has a lot to do with our leadership.  We have great leadership at all three ends.  We have great leadership in the secondary.  Obviously, we have great leadership with the linebackers.  And we have great leadership with the front four.  When you have a great leader in each of those groups, it kind of pulls it together.  It is a very close-knit group, and they lover playing with each other.  They really love to play on the field with one another.  When you have that kind of energy, you play harder that way.  It makes it exciting to watch.  I think that is why they are playing so well." When you look at Illinois' offensive front on tape, what do you see from that group?
: "They are big.  They are your typical Big Ten offensive line guys.  They are long, athletic.  They've had some injuries, but they will put the five best guys on the field.  It will be a very high-energy game.  They are coming off a loss and we are coming in on a high, so they are going to be ready for us.  It will be a challenge for us.  This is the first tall, long front we have seen, so it will be challenging." What are the keys to the game?
: "We have to stop the run.  We have to stop Nathan (Scheelhaase) if he is the starting quarterback.  We can't give him scramble yards.  Those are the things that kill you.  You have everybody covered and then he runs 15 yard for a first down.  We have to do a great job containing the quarterback.  Once we stop the run game, then we can get at the passer.  Going into the game, stop the quarterback and the scramble part of the offense, stop the run and then play consistent."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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