Miami LB transfer Caleb Johnson (UCLA) showing out. Restrepo gets huge praise from Cristobal

·4 min read

Elite former UCLA linebacker Caleb Johnson met the Miami media on Monday, two days after his first scrimmage as a Hurricane.

He seemed mighty pleased at what he’s seen since he arrived.

“It’s been good,’’ said the 6-1, 230-pound graduate transfer, a significant addition to the Hurricanes’ most vulnerable position last season. “I got here a few months ago, and I’m starting to really pick it up faster. It’s different being in a new place, but the way they’re teaching it is really resonating.

“I had a pretty good scrimmage overall. I need to clean some stuff up, but I’m really adjusting fast, getting to the ball fast. ...It kind of just clicked.’’

Johnson chose UM over Texas, where he played three games in 2019 before transferring to UCLA entering the 2020 season. He is from Murrieta, California, and also previously played at Fullerton [Community] College.

Miami Hurricanes defensive backs Kamren Kinchens (24) and James Williams (0) run drills at the University of Miami’s Greentree Practice Fields on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla.
Miami Hurricanes defensive backs Kamren Kinchens (24) and James Williams (0) run drills at the University of Miami’s Greentree Practice Fields on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020, Johnson led UCLA with 44 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks and had seven tackles for loss in seven games. Last season, when UCLA finished 8-4 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12, Johnson had 45 tackles, with one interception and three pass breakups.

“Ultimately, I just wanted a better opportunity at I believe a better program — no offense to UCLA,’’ Johnson said, when asked why he transferred. “I just saw a bigger platform and better coaching here.’’

Johnson, who got his UCLA degree in African-American Studies and is now working on a master’s in sports administration, said a big reason he came to UM was because of co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Charlie Strong. Last year, Strong was the linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Strong also has been a head coach at Louisville, Texas the USF, as well as interim Gators coach.

“Coach Strong, he’s a big part of why I came here. Seeing him as a position coach was surprising to me. He’s really teaching us and breaking it down for me and getting us going.’’

Johnson said he believes UM’s improved defensive line, much of it thanks to fellow vaunted transfers, “is probably going to be the best in the nation. A lot of depth, a lot of guys that can play.’’

The other linebackers, such as Corey Flagg, Waynmon Steed, Avery Huff, Wesley Bissainthe, Keontra Smith and Chase Smith “made the transition really clean,’’ Johnson said. “It felt smooth. There was no adjustment period for me. They welcomed me in. We’re definitely making each other better.’’

Last week, UM middle linebacker Flagg indicated the linebacker corps happily embraced Johnson.

“That was a great thing,” Flagg said. “We needed more depth in the room. We needed help.”

In the Hurricanes’ first fully padded fall camp practice on Thursday, Flagg and Steed got most of the work as the first-team linebackers, but Johnson and fellow linebacker Keontra Smith both have starting experience, too, and will make this a true competition throughout the season.

Said Steed: “We’re not worrying about who’s this, who’s that. We’re just helping each other get better.’’

Coach Mario Cristobal said Monday that “the light’s coming on’’ for Johnson. “Obviously I had experience against him as a coach while I was at Oregon and he was at UCLA. He’s a really good player. He’s in a position room where guys are playing really good football. He’s explosive, he’s athletic, he’s really fast, he can track the ball carriers and close on quarterbacks.

“He’s got natural rushability and he’s got a lot of experience. Terminology wise, it’s very different, so there’s an adjustment there. But overall, Caleb has had a really good camp.’’

Restrepo praised

No doubt that slot receiver Xavier Restrepo has been the best wide receiver thus far, Cristobal said.

“He’s been unquestionably the most productive wide receiver in camp,’’ the coach said. “It’s his approach to practice.

“You watch. You guys are out there early. It’s not hard to find, right? There were about 10 pro scouts out there today, and right away that’s what they’re saying. It’s like, ‘Whoa! What about that guy? Look at that guy’s motor. Look at his engine.’’’

“That’s the goal of every team, right? You want guys that operate that way. And then when time is up, that put in the extra time; that get in here earlier. He’s that kind of guy. We need that more.“