He's still the one
He may have little flash and mobility, but the Bucs' Brad Johnson proves time and again that he's the best QB.
|[Times photo: Kevin White]
It took some time, but the consistent play and dedication of quarterback Brad Johnson, left, has earned the respect of coach Jon Gruden.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002
TAMPA -- At quarterback, No. 14, Brad Johnson.
Who were you expecting? Randall Cunningham? Jeff George?
Johnson has been introduced on opening day in the NFL with as much regularity as the national anthem.
But when Jon Gruden took over the Bucs, redecorating the offense and player personnel in his double-parked way, he said there was a legitimate contest at quarterback.
But it wasn't a contest. Red Tide versus mullet is a contest.
The challengers, Rob Johnson and Shaun King, had more athleticism, youth and charisma. But every time they tried to win the job was like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
What is it about Brad Johnson that allows coaches, even an insomniac like Gruden, to sleep better knowing he is under center?
"First of all, Brad is a little more talented than people give him credit for," general manager Rich McKay said. "People think Brad is just a guy who works hard and doesn't make mistakes, but he's a little more talented than that."
Actually, he's a lot more talented. Johnson's 61.6 completion percentage ranks third behind Joe Montana and Steve Young. He also has thrown for 4,000 yards in a season, so he has a stronger arm than he is credited for. But someone, somewhere always beats out Johnson. Cunningham in Minnesota. George in Washington. Johnson makes those plans work like a Styrofoam hammer.
"There's a saying, 'It's good to have an end that the journey is for, but it's the journey that matters in the end,' " Johnson said. "I've been through coaching changes, I've been through players, I've been to different teams. I've gotten to play for some great coaches, I got to be a part of some great teams. I love to play. That's the all-tell. I've gone through adversity, I've had great times, and I just want to ride it out as far as I can go."
The trip has lasted longer than most in the NFL. Johnson, who turns 34 this week, enters his 11th season today against the Saints. When Johnson came to the league, Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks was finishing middle school.
"Hey, look, he was a backup at Florida State, goes to the Vikings and he's the third (on the depth chart)," McKay said. "It's an incredible success story that you don't see a lot of in our league because at that position, people traditionally have no patience. If you don't have super talent, meaning the huge arm and run the 40, people tend to say at a certain point in time, 'I'm writing you off.' But he was fortunate enough at Minnesota where he had coaches like Denny Green and Brian Billick that saw something they like and they kept developing."
But Gruden was unfamiliar with Johnson when he arrived in Tampa Bay. And his offense seemed ill-suited for the 6-foot-5, 226-pound veteran.
So it was no surprise that in his first news conference, Gruden gushed about working with King. Then he signed Rob Johnson, the former Bills quarterback who reminded everyone, especially Gruden, of a young Rich Gannon, whom he won with in Oakland.
"Yes, I did (have concerns), because it's different than what Jon is used to," McKay said. "Brad has different abilities than what Jon had just gotten through with Rich Gannon. By the same token, you have to give some credit to Jon in that Jon is going to look at Brad and see what abilities Brad has and how they fit as opposed to making Brad fit in the exact same approach as he had in Oakland. ... I think the biggest thing he had to see was if he was going to be comfortable with the way Brad plays the game."
Gruden was instantly impressed with Brad Johnson's work ethic and how quickly he picked up the offense. He called the right protections, threw to the right receivers and put the ball where receivers could gain yards after the catch. When the Bucs got to training camp, the job was his to lose.
"Certainly, as much as I like to get involved with the quarterbacks, that's as important a relationship as I've ever been a part of on any team," Gruden said. "But I've really been impressed with his consistency, his seriousness and his dedication to the game. It's really important to him. He takes a lot of pride in his performance. He has a great appreciation for what the quarterback means in this league and what he has to do to be successful."
The criticism of Johnson has been his lack of mobility. But he is a tremendous athlete who played basketball at Florida State. Look at preseason statistics. Behind an offensive line that struggled, only one quarterback failed to get sacked. It wasn't scrambling Rob Johnson or crafty King.
"Everybody talks about his immobility, he's not a real movement-oriented guy. But if you look at our stats, I think he's the one quarterback who went sack-free the whole preseason," Gruden said. "This guy can get back there quick and throw the ball with people in his face. He's one of those guys who will stand in there and throw the ball and just get hit. I think the great pocket passers have that presence in the pocket. You look at (Kurt) Warner, you look at (Brett) Favre, guys like that. They're willing to hold the ball at the last second and anticipate the throw and make it. Where a lot of guys, 'I'm out of here.' "
That's Brad Johnson. Just when you think his time is up, he stands and delivers.
"He'll wait to the last second. Hey, you've got to love it," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "I've hunted him before, so I know what he's capable of. He's nothing but a 60 percent passer, a 3,500-yard passer (last season) with an offense they say was rinky-dink; this man is the fourth-leading passer in the game, with 10 sacks in a game, getting lit up week in and week out, but coming to work. He's a bull. I'll take him any day."
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