Vermeil to Johnson: 'Take the diapers off'
Johnson, a first-round draft pick out of Penn State, might be pressed into action Sunday against Houston if Holmes is still hobbled by a sore ankle. He has expressed his unhappiness over not playing, and on Wednesday, dismissed the suggestion that Vermeil was trying to motivate him with comments made in his weekly news conference.
"I don't need no motivation," Johnson said. "If I need motivation, I'll talk to my father. I don't need another grown man telling me I need to take the diapers off.
"That's not how I've been raised, and I don't need no motivation from anybody. I'm self-motivated because my father taught me to be that way."
Johnson has played sparingly behind Holmes, even dropping to third team behind Derrick Blaylock. His father, Larry Johnson Sr., is defensive line coach at Penn State.
"I don't really listen to that kind of stuff," the younger Johnson said of Vermeil's comments. "If the man can't say something in my face, that's how I feel. It don't mean nothing to me."
Vermeil has criticized Johnson in the past for his casual approach toward preparation, and made the remark when asked about the possibility of Holmes missing Sunday's game.
Vermeil, whose 0-2 team has already been beset by distractions and injuries, said the remark "just popped into my scrambled head."
"He's got some pressure on him now because if Priest doesn't play, he's going to be carrying a load, and it's a lot of responsibility that so far he has a way to go to prove he can handle it," Vermeil said. "And I'm looking forward to giving him the opportunity if Priest can't play."
Although the comment was made in jest, "in a way, there's a little truth to it," Vermeil said.
"I like Larry and I see his talent. And I've spent more time with Larry Johnson than all my roster combined in the last two years, and so has everybody else in this building. And sooner or later he's going to recognize that," Vermeil said.
Vermeil made it clear the day Johnson was drafted that he would have preferred to take a defensive player. But Holmes was coming off hip surgery, and the organization decided it needed insurance at running back.
Last season, Johnson had 20 carries for 85 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
"Yes, it's a little frustrating when they bring you here and they can't tell you whether you're going to play or you're not going to play," Johnson said. "That's just how I feel. By no means I'm going to stop going hard here and going hard every day in practice. It's just something that's frustrating right now and would be to anybody who's in my position."
Vermeil said he understands Johnson's frustration.
"The kid wants to play football badly. He loves to play," Vermeil said. "But in this league they just don't automatically retire Priest Holmes."
"He has all the talent in the world," Vermeil said of Johnson, "and sooner or later, he'll have his opportunity to take advantage of it."
Asked if the statement would impact his relationship with the coach, Johnson said, "It affects a lot of things.
"But that's between to him and me to figure that out. There's a lot of things going on that I want to address but I want to wait to the right time for me to do that."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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