Juwan Johnsonknew exactly what Dan Campbell meant.
When Campbell referred to instilling a mentality that would lead his team to bite off an opponents' kneecap if necessary during his introductory news conference as Detroit Lions head coach in 2021, the New Orleans Saints tight end knew what Campbell, a former assistant head coach and tight ends coach for the Saints from 2016-2020, was referring to.
"Of course," Johnson said. "He's a tight end, so you already know. I know the terminology. That's just how Dan is.
"He's a guy that's trying to get after it, and he's trying to instill that in his guys. And for the most part, his guys got it. We know what they're about. It's not anything that is dirty or anything, that's just the way he's trying to set a mentality. That's just how it is."
Campbell appears to have set the mentality for the Lions, who are 8-3 entering Sunday's game against the Saints (5-6) in the Caesars Superdome.
Detroit was 3-13-1 in Campbell's first season, then 9-8 last year before opening this season with eight wins in its first 10 games en route to taking a 2.5-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC North Division.
Campbell didn't coach Johnson in New Orleans, as Johnson played receiver in 2020 and '21, his first two seasons. But Campbell tried.
"Dan was one of my favorite coaches," Johnson said. "Dan was great. Very passionate, just a genuine guy. He actually tried to get me in the tight end room when I was a receiver, so I always had respect for him.
"He was just always a genuine coach, kept it real. I remember when we were at a time when we had lost a couple of games my rookie year, but he got those guys back up. When (former Saints coach) Sean (Payton) was out during Covid (in March 2020, then again in December 2021), I remember that, he was our temporary coach and we loved him.
"So I already knew he was going to be a great coach wherever he was at. I've got a ton of respect for Dan."
Campbell and Saints Coach Dennis Allen had overlapping collegiate careers at Texas A&M, where Allen was an Aggie from 1992-95, and Campbell represented from 1995-98.
Allen said Campbell the coach and Campbell the player are one in the same.
"I think he's done a really good job," Allen said. "It didn't start out great for him, but about halfway through the second season they started to turn things around and I think he's done a really good job. I think their team is tough, physical, competitive. They do a good on offense in the run game, they do a good job in play-action game passing game, they play really physical and aggressive defensively.
"I was at A&M with Dan, so I've known Dan for a long time as teammates and things of that nature. Just a tough, physical mind-set. That's really what he was as a player, and I think that's what he is as a coach."
It's what the Saints will face on the field Sunday against the Lions.
"He got the best out of (former Saints tight end) Jared Cook when he was here, and I can see and I can tell, that's just a guy you want to be around," Johnson said.
Cook, in 2019 at the age of 32, caught a career-high nine touchdown passes and had 43 catches for 705 yards for a career-best 16.4-yard average.
"From the very start, when I met hm, he's a guy that you want to be around, he's a charismatic guy," Johnson said. "He wants the best out of his players, and you can tell. You can tell he's trying to get the best out of his players."