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Johnson crowds QB field

Rob Johnson, a free agent from Buffalo and a former starter, signs to compete for Bucs job.

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2002

TAMPA -- The Bucs signed free-agent quarterback Rob Johnson on Saturday, significantly increasing the competition for Brad Johnson's starting job.

Johnson met with team officials Friday, then agreed on a deal Saturday before flying home to Laguna Beach, Calif. Terms of the contract were not released, but it is expected to be similar to the one-year, $1-million deal Johnson was offered by the Houston Texans last week.

Johnson, a seven-year veteran who was the Bills' starter in 2001, gives the Bucs four quarterbacks, all of whom coach Jon Gruden said will be evaluated closely.

"We are pleased to add Rob to our football team," Gruden said in a release. "He has a lot of interesting qualities. He's young (Johnson turns 29 on March 18), talented and has experience as a starting quarterback in the National Football League.

"I'm looking forward to finding more quarterbacks that can come in here and compete. It will be a position that we scrutinize very carefully and we'll work to cultivate as many arms as we can in our program here."

Days ago, Johnson reportedly was on the verge of signing with the expansion Texans. But Saturday he seemed content being with Tampa Bay, his third stop after Jacksonville and Buffalo.

"I can't wait to get to work with Coach Gruden and his staff," said Johnson, who leaves a team in Buffalo that won 11 games the past two seasons. "He is a special coach and this team has special players. I look forward to competing and contributing here."

In the 6-4, 214-pound Johnson, the Bucs are getting a scrambling, strong-armed quarterback who throws well on the run and who can make big plays -- when healthy. In a four-season stint with the Bills he threw for the franchise's best career completion percentage (60.5) and its lowest interception percentage (2.56), but was knocked out of 11 of 27 starts because of injury.

He has been criticized for holding the ball too long in the pocket. On average, he was sacked every seven passing plays last season.

In a 31-17 Bucs win against the Bills at Raymond James Stadium in November 2000, Johnson repeatedly was chased out of the pocket and completed 24 of 39 passes for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions, despite being sacked six times.

Johnson will be in a fight again for a starting job, after winning a long battle in Buffalo when Doug Flutie left for San Diego before this past season. Johnson played well at times, starting the first eight games and going 134 for 216 (62.5 percent) for 1,465 yards, 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. A broken collarbone ended his season early.

Gruden, however, has said Brad Johnson remains the starter. The team recently paid him a$2-million roster bonus, possibly indicating it plans for him to take the first snap next season.

Rob Johnson appears a good fit with Gruden, who took a similar quarterback in Oakland, Rich Gannon, and helped elevate him to the Pro Bowl. He also is familiar with receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a teammate at Southern California in 1994.

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