King may get shot as backup QB
Coach Gruden strongly hints he'll get a chance tonight that could lead to a regular-season job.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002
HOUSTON -- The Bucs love their quarterback situation -- three players who have played in playoff games with different teams.
But forget the postseason. Only two of them may be lucky to play in the regular season.
Brad Johnson is the starter, leaving Rob Johnson and Shaun King a final preseason game tonight against the Houston Texans to determine who will back up and who will sit down as the inactive third quarterback.
Coach Jon Gruden strongly hinted he might allow King to play second in the rotation tonight. Depending on his performance, the new order could be for one game or for the regular season.
"I'm sensitive, very sensitive to the situation those guys are in," Gruden said. "I appreciate it. I want to be fair to them. I don't know that I've been fair enough to Shaun in my own mind. But at the same time, I have to do something, you know what I mean?
"It'll be the final evaluation, let's put it that way. It'll weigh. I don't know if it'll be the verdict, but it'll weigh. It'll definitely weigh."
Based on preseason games, there's little to suggest Rob Johnson is far ahead of King or vice versa. Both have attempted about 30 passes. King has more passing yardage (177-161) and a higher completion percentage (62.5-56.7). But Rob Johnson leads all three with two touchdowns and is the only one not to throw an interception. Both King and Rob Johnson have been sacked six times.
"I like them both, as long as we start to protect the ball better," Gruden said. "We can't turn the ball over. That's the No. 1 thing a quarterback has to do in this league is take care of the ball. When you have an interception by Shaun and two by Brad, and one fumble by Rob, that's bad quarterback coaching. These are too good of players to put the ball in the other team's hands, and we're not going to do that."
While Rob Johnson has looked flashy at times, he has struggled managing the offense, seeing the whole field, using his checkdowns and avoiding negative plays. Last week his fumble after a sack resulted in a Redskins touchdown. King had an interception returned 20 yards for another score.
"That's more important than anything. Can you see a (defensive) look?" Gruden said. "They're going to blitz the corner here or they're going to blitz the safety. Are you going to get blindsided? Or let the ball come out on time? Or change the play? It's pre-snap looks and then the looks they get that are well-disguised that they have to react to after the ball is snapped. To me that's the most important attribute a quarterback has these days. To hell with the 40-yard dash and what kind of Jugs machine they have, it's about throwing the ball to the guy who's open on time and keeping your offense out of bad situations."
Both King and Rob Johnson have had their share of bad luck. Rookie Marquise Walker dropped a touchdown pass from King in the fourth quarter against the Redskins. Rob Johnson had a deep throw to Karl Williams wiped clean when tackle Kenyatta Walker failed to take his stance on the line of scrimmage.
"Part of that is learning a new system and sometimes you need help around you," Gruden said. "If (tight end) Ken Dilger looks (to be the) hot receiver, instead of an interception by Brad (Johnson), you've got a big play. He doesn't and the Redskins get a big play."
As much as Gruden evaluated his quarterbacks this preseason, his real aim was to begin developing them within his system.
"Sometimes it's easier coaching a rookie quarterback than it is someone who's played," Gruden said. "Brad's been in Brian Billick's system, he's run different offenses; Shaun has four in four years, Rob's been all over. These guys have had a lot of different exposure and they've been trained a certain way to a degree.
"You have to respect that, but at the same time you want to get into some kind of rhythm in terms of the setups, the progressions, how to handle blitzes, what audibles to make -- you've got to coach all three at the same level to make sure all three don't lead the team in completely different ways."
Whether Rob Johnson or King wins the No. 2 position to start the season, Gruden said he is a long way from determining which has a future with the Bucs.
Both will become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, so a choice is inevitable.
"I think when it's all said and done, it's been fair," Gruden said. "It's been developmental, which is the most important thing. In my opinion, I'm not even close to saying this relationship is over. We're just getting started. I want to keep these guys coming along and I'm hopeful I can work with these guys for years to come."
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