When Jay Johnson hits the field with the Colorado football team during spring drills in March, he will be in charge of an offense for the first time in two-and-a-half years.

In that time, he's soaked up a lot of knowledge and believes he will be a better offensive coordinator than he's been in the past.

Hired last month by new CU head coach Mel Tucker, Johnson is excited for a new opportunity with the Buffs. Tucker and Johnson were both a part of Georgia's staff the last two years, with Johnson working as offensive quality control analyst.

"I think it helped me grow tremendously," Johnson said of his two years at Georgia, "and I think I'll be hopefully more versed as I move forward."

Johnson, 49, who grew up in Minnesota, has been in coaching for more than two decades, including 12 years as an offensive coordinator. He was the coordinator at Louisiana from 2011-15 before running the offense at Minnesota in 2016.

A coaching change at Minnesota following the 2016 season left Johnson looking for another opportunity, and he was hired by Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.

"You're always trying to learn, so that was a great environment and Kirby was kind enough to bring me on and allow me that opportunity to learn and grow," said Johnson, who will also coach CU's quarterbacks.

An on-the-field coach throughout his career, Johnson worked behind the scenes as an analyst at Georgia.


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"Really, it was to look at what the defenses were doing and try to break down and analyze them and see if there were things that we could help each other out and help our guys there from that perspective," he said.

In addition, Johnson brought his views and experience to the Georgia offense, while learning from Bulldogs' offensive coordinator Jim Cheney and others on staff.

"I think it did a lot of things for me," he said of working at Georgia. "One, I think it reaffirmed some of the things I already thought and had done that were definitely on the right track. But it definitely expanded my horizons a little bit with Jim Cheney and those guys at Georgia. Jim has a great track record and to see their system and see how another person approaches the game and what type of things they try to do in game planning and things of that nature was great.

"You don't have time to sit back and look at the bigger picture (in a coordinator role)."

Now back in a coordinator role, Johnson said he's eager to apply what he learned at Georgia to the CU offense.

"It's very exciting," he said. "To come in and work with Mel and be at an institution like this is very exciting and very encouraging. I think we're in the process of putting together a really good staff that's really experienced. To sit around a room with those guys and bring all those experiences together, hopefully you can mold something special."

Johnson puts a premium on situational football — excelling on third downs and in the red zone — and taking care of the ball. He and Tucker both believe in doing what's necessary to win each game, and not necessarily sticking to a particular scheme.

In Johnson's career, he's often had dual-threat quarterbacks that rack up a lot of rushing yards. CU's Steven Montez, a senior in 2019, has shown an ability to run in his two seasons as a starter.

"I think it's certainly an important parameter of the game," Johnson said of the quarterback running. "I think you have to look a little bit at the quarterback and his skill set — does it fit him? — and also just your whole quarterback room. If you have the ability to do it some, it really stresses the defense."

Johnson said he's watched a lot of film of Montez and likes the senior's skill set.

"Obviously he can spin the ball really well and he shows that he has the ability to extend plays and is mobile," he said.

A top priority, however, will be in developing relationships with Montez and all the quarterbacks. It's a group that grew close to former quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper this past year.

"I know they've been well trained with (Roper) and hopefully we can use that experience with mine and maybe just say something a little bit different that gels everything together," Johnson said. "As we all find out, change is a part of life. We, in all walks of our life, are going to have to experience it, so hopefully if we can transition through it the right way, it can be positive for everyone."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33