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OSU DL coach Larry Johnson says Michael Hall Jr. great fit for Browns, can do ‘something really special’

Michael Hall Jr. is quick to say he wouldn’t be the player he is without Larry Johnson.

Or the person.

The Browns drafted the Ohio State defensive tackle in the second round April 26, No. 54 overall. Hall spent three years in Columbus being guided by Johnson, the veteran associate head coach and defensive line coach.

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“He’s helped tremendously on the field, of course, just understanding pass rush and how to gauge the pocket and how to be a disruptor,” Hall said during draft weekend. He’s expected to practice for the first time with the Browns on Friday at rookie minicamp. “But I feel like the biggest thing he helped me is off the field. He’s my mentor and he was my sports psych before I was seeing a sports psych.

“So just being transparent with him and being able to talk to him about anything, I feel like that was the best thing that could have happened for me and him. And just to have that real close bond and that relationship, it really helped me as a player.”

Ohio State declares Johnson “the best defensive line coach in college football” in his bio, and he’s sent a series of Buckeyes to the NFL. He helped Hall, who doesn’t turn 21 until next month, to mature.

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“My thing is always about investing in young people rather than coaching them,” Johnson told The Chronicle-Telegram in a phone interview Wednesday. “When you’re investing in young people, allow them to trust you, then you could push ’em into greatness.

“In Mike’s case, his father wasn’t there earlier on in his life and I think Mike saw me as a father figure, saw me as an adviser, someone he could talk to and bounce things off. He saw me (in my roles) as a father and a husband. I think all those things that Mike saw we talked about. And I think that helped him to continue to move forward in his life. And Mike’s like a son to me, we’re really close in the sense of that he allowed me to get close to him. And sometimes players won’t let you do that, but Mike did and I think that’s what makes our relationship really special.”

Hall (6-foot-3, 299 pounds) was raised in Garfield Heights and moved to Streetsboro for his last three years of high school. He’s ecstatic about playing for the team he grew up cheering and said his predraft visit in Berea felt like home.

“From Day 1 I loved it here and even telling my mom and my brother I feel like Cleveland was the one,” Hall said. “And luckily I ended up here, so it was the best thing ever.”

Playing in their hometown can be problematic for certain NFL players, but Johnson agrees with Hall the Browns are a great landing spot.

“I don’t think it could have been a better situation,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the family is overwhelming. But Mike has a very supportive family. So I think that’s all good for Mike to have that village with him, to have a chance to do something really special.”

Hall played in four games and made two tackles as a freshman in 2021, then started 12 of 24 games over the next two seasons, totaling six sacks and 43 tackles, 9½ for loss. As his career progressed, Johnson thought he would benefit from seeing a sports psychologist.

“Just sometimes we have our football that leads you to the anger part of it, too,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you got to watch how far you go. Just to be able to talk out some of his past, talk out things that was on his mind, things that bother him. And I think just to get him to relax more and really enjoy the game.

“You never know what’s going on in their minds and I just thought that was important to Mike. just sit down and talk and he was willing to do it and I think it helped him to relax more and to understand where he was at and moving forward in his life. The fact that he wanted it shows you that he wanted someone to talk to. That’s a good thing.”

Hall went through a life-changing event during his final season with the Buckeyes. His girlfriend had a baby boy, which was a big reason he declared early for the draft. They joined him at Browns headquarters the day after he was picked, and he said having a son has helped him be more patient.

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“When you get that sense of responsibility and you have something of your own that you have to raise for the first time, it changes you,” Johnson said. “And Mike wanted to be a father. He wanted to take advantage of doing the right thing. He wanted to be with her during the pregnancy and be with her at the hospital. And then when that all was said and done, he said, ‘Now, Coach, I can go play football.’

“I think it speaks volumes of Mike, who he is as a young man, be able to handle the responsibility and then five days later run on the football field and go play a game.”

The Browns coveted Hall’s ability to rush the passer from the interior, loving his burst, long arms and impressive win rate. He’s expected to join the veteran rotation at tackle and ideally force quarterbacks into the arms of defensive end Myles Garrett or benefit from the matchups that come when sharing a line with Garrett and end Za’Darius Smith.

“Guys that can convert a one-on-one into pressure on a relatively consistent basis, they have great value for this scheme, but they also have great value when paired with the best defensive player in football,” general manager Andrew Berry said, referring to Garrett, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2023.

Under coordinator Jim Schwartz, the defense is all about attacking. That starts with linemen who penetrate and wreak havoc in the backfield. The Browns, Johnson and Hall agree he’s a perfect fit.

“I feel like the best thing ever is just making a quarterback look at you presnap and just having that anticipation,” Hall said with a sinister giggle.

“First step is wicked, very quick off the first step,” Johnson said. “He’s got a basketball body and a football mindset in a sense that he can go right to left, then the crossover move that he can do with his feet, his hands, real twitch in his body movement and so that makes him hard to handle. He’s very powerful in the ground up and that means he can get all his body into you and move a big man. That’s what makes him really special.”

Berry said the Browns liked Hall’s “passion and energy.” Johnson gave him a ringing endorsement.

“Great young man,” he said. “Very caring, very compassionate about what he does. He loves people. He’s got a contagious smile. He’s just a bubbly guy. Has a purpose.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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