- Former NFL and college D-line coach Bill Johnson says “there’s a history” of Siaki Ika’s weight “going up and down,” so managing it will be crucial to him reaching his potential with the Browns
- Johnson explains what Ika is capable of bringing to the field and meeting room for the Browns
- Ika outlines how he believes his collegiate football experiences at LSU and Baylor prepared him for the NFL
Before Bill Johnson coached Browns rookie Siaki Ika, the longtime assistant worked on THE Ferrari of defensive tackles — Los Angeles Rams superstar Aaron Donald.
“I don’t care what anybody says, there’s only one Aaron Donald. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent,” Johnson said during a recent phone interview with the Beacon Journal.
New Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said he wants Ika to transition from a dump truck to a Ferrari. It means the third-round draft pick will be expected to rush up the field to disrupt opposing running and passing attacks instead of simply occupying offensive linemen at the point of attack.
Obviously, no one expects Ika to be anywhere close to as productive as three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Donald, but the Browns are hoping the player they chose 98th overall out of Baylor University on April 28 can become a rotational tackle and an eventual starter for Schwartz.
In Johnson’s mind, whether Ika proves to be a wise draft choice by Browns General Manager Andrew Berry will depend on the lineman’s dedication to staying in shape.
“I would say he’s a dang good prospect,” Johnson said, “but it all hinges on the weight management and conditioning.
“That’s between him and him, or him and the Browns, or him and whoever, because there’s a history of it going up and down. But I like the kid, and I like the pick.”
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Now the defensive line coach of the XFL’s Houston franchise, Johnson knows what it takes for a D-tackle to successfully make the leap from college to the NFL.
Johnson coached the trenches for 18 seasons in the league, with Donald and the Rams from 2017-18, New Orleans Saints from 2009-16, Denver Broncos from 2007-08 and Atlanta Falcons from 2001-06. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints to finish the 2009 season. He also spent more than 20 years guiding D-linemen at the collegiate level, most recently at Louisiana State from 2019-20.
Recruited out of East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, Ika played 13 games for LSU as a freshman and helped the Tigers end the 2019 season by winning the College Football Playoff national championship. He played four games at LSU the next season before entering the transfer portal in October 2020 and later followed Dave Aranda to Baylor after he parlayed a role as Tigers defensive coordinator into a head coaching job with the Bears.
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Ika started one of his 17 games at LSU and compiled 22 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He started 23 of his 25 games at Baylor and registered 49 tackles, with 8.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and three passes defensed. He was the Big 12 Conference’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2021 and first-team All-Big 12 in 2022.
Johnson said Ika’s weight fluctuated during their time together. The trend continued during the pre-draft process, as evidenced by the 6-foot-3 Ika weighing 335 pounds March 2 at the NFL Scouting Combine and 347 pounds March 27 at Baylor’s pro day.
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Asked whether the Browns had given him a target playing weight, Ika said April 29 during his introductory news conference, “They haven’t, but I want to lose some weight for sure. I’d rather play lighter.” Later, he added, “probably somewhere around 335-340” pounds would be a good weight for him. He said 340 was his lowest playing weight this past season.
“If the weight management, the conditioning and the fitness part is taken care of, he will be about what a third-, fourth-round player is, which is a good contributor,” Johnson said.
“If he’s not focused on that weight and working out … then his play will slip. He has a little of that up and down.”
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In 2019, Ika “got in good shape and played really well” for LSU, Johnson said.
“We got him right for the season, and he’d get away after the season and come back, and OK, we’ve got to start over,” Johnson said. “It ain’t no different than me after Christmas or something. You know, you go home to mama’s cooking and all that, but he’s a good kid.”
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Longtime defensive line coach Bill Johnson says Siaki Ika’s football instincts and intelligence are among the Browns draft pick’s strengths
Johnson said he likes Ika’s “great personality” and football instincts. He added Ika, 22, could answer every question in LSU’s defensive line meetings. At Baylor, Ika became a team captain.
“He’s very smart. He’s football intelligent now. That’s a big plus in the NFL when you’ve got football intelligence,” Johnson said. “I think his play is always relative to his conditioning. When he gets himself in really good condition, the kid is a really good, powerful, nose tackle type guy that can push. He’s got quick feet. He has the ability to get off blocks.
“He’s a short-range player. He’s probably more of a disruptive player. He has a lot of hidden production. In other words, he may not make the tackle and get the mark for the tackle, but he’s created some havoc on that blocking scheme that maybe caused the play to break a little bit.”
Ika’s ability to earn a role on a national championship team as a freshman in the Southeastern Conference is a testament to his innate talent and hustle. He explained playing right away at LSU forced him to “grow up really quick.” He also credited coaches and older teammates with helping him get on the right path early.
Two Browns defenders — safety Grant Delpit and linebacker Jacob Phillips — were on the same LSU title team.
“They held me accountable, made sure I was doing my part, made sure I was doing my job,” Ika said.
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The Browns were attracted to Ika’s movement skills, which they consider impressive for a man his size. Berry said Ika demonstrated them frequently after transferring to Baylor and playing a different brand of football in the Big 12.
“To be honest, I feel like it was real good for me,” Ika said. “The transfer portal isn’t too nice to a lot of other players, so I’m just grateful that it turned out to be something real good for me. I loved it. Big 12 was a little different. SEC, everything is coming straight at you. Big 12, things were more side to side. It just took a little bit of adjustment, and I feel like I did that well.”
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Although Ika’s natural position is nose tackle, Johnson said he can moonlight at three-technique.
“As long as that kid will take care of his body and do what it takes to be a pro, he’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “He’ll be a solid player.”
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With Schwartz’s Ferrari expectations in the backdrop, Ika spoke as if he’ll be amenable to whatever tune-up the Browns recommend.
“I’m thankful that someone took the chance,” he said, “and I’m gunning to prove it wasn’t a mistake.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @ByNateUlrich.