Coach Johnson is drawn to teaching the tight end position because of its multitude of roles. "There's a lot they're involved in, just every phase," he explained. "I like the fact that most of the guys that play it are intelligent players. They understand the game, and that makes it enjoyable to coach."
The Raiders tight ends excelled at different things in 2014 – Mychal Rivera was more of a pass catcher, while Brian Leonhardt was more of a blocking tight end.
"I think he works hard at becoming the best player he can be. You see it on film," said Coach Johnson about Rivera. "There are some things as a young player he's not quite suited to do yet, or maybe hasn't developed into being real proficient at, but you see him attempting it. He's willing, and that's a big thing with me. If you're a willing player, you have a chance, and that's all you can ask for, is a chance, and I see him being willing to do a lot of things that maybe aren't his strengths. He's just starting to scratch the surface."
Coach Johnson will emphasize the blocking role of a tight end. It probably helps to have the offensive line background when it comes to that facet of a tight end's game. "It's a very important part of the game. Obviously, you need to be able to run the ball in this game, and the tight end plays a very important role in that blocking scheme that you try to do in the run game, but also in protection," said Coach Johnson. "I think that a blocking tight end has kind of been undervalued, but when you don't have one, you realize the importance of it when you don't have it."
The Raiders have a history of productive tight ends, including Dave Casper and Todd Christensen, and Coach Johnson intends to uphold that legacy. "It gives you pride, and every day you don't want to let those people down that created that mystique and created that tradition," said Coach Johnson. "You're going to have that tradition behind you and you're going to want to uphold it, or at least coach your guys to uphold it."
Those players remind those in the building what it means to be a Raider. "There's the tradition behind this organization that you have to have a certain amount of pride to want to uphold that tradition," said Coach Johnson. "I can feel it when I'm trying to do things in a way that pays respect to the people that were here before. There have been a lot of really good coaches here. There have been a lot of really good players here, so to me, you have a responsibility to uphold the tradition, and that's what [being a Raider] means to me."