Bucs shuffle the wide receiver's assignments, and the Vikings defense has trouble keeping up.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2002
TAMPA -- Bucs coach Jon Gruden appears to be learning something new about Keyshawn Johnson day by day.
He is learning that his Pro Bowl receiver has sufficient confidence to share some with the rest of the team.
He is learning that if he moves him around the line of scrimmage or lines him up in the backfield, he can create tough decisions for the defenses.
He is learning, most of all, that when called upon, the former No. 1 pick will deliver.
Sunday, Johnson delivered time and again.
"It looked like they moved me around a lot," Johnson said. "I think it helps a lot from what we're trying to do from an offensive perspective. I just haven't been one of those guys who's been stationary my whole career.
"One of the interesting things he said to me during practice (last) week was that he's finding out what type of player I can be. When he starts to move me around a little bit, it makes a difference. For whatever reason, it makes a difference."
Here's some statistical proof. Going into Sunday's game, Johnson had nine receptions for 123 yards over the past three games. Against the Vikings, Johnson had nine catches for 133 yards. In the three previous games, Johnson failed to score. Sunday, he had two touchdowns.
"When I get in a zone there's no better thing." said Johnson, who so keyed up he took something to help him sleep Saturday night. "It's one of those things when you know you're hot. Coach Gruden knew I was hot. He said, 'Okay, I've got to get this big (guy) the ball. Everything is clicking. I've always been able to do that. This is a new coach with a new system and he has to get to know his players. I think to his credit, he's trying to get to know what is it that Keyshawn Johnson does well."
A lot of that is making a defense pay for letting him get into space. A number of times against the Vikings, Johnson slipped in behind the linebackers for long receptions. There was a gain of 26 yards and five other receptions for 15 or more.
And there were times when the Vikings seemed to forget that with Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius injured Johnson was going to be the primary target.
"We had to lean on Keyshawn a little bit more, and I think that he stepped up to the challenge," receivers coach Richard Mann said. "He's been quiet and hasn't done a lot in the last couple of games, but Sunday he had some opportunities to make plays and he made them.
"Coming into it, he knew in the past he was the primary guy and got all the balls. But now we pass it around. We spread it around and he knows it's not going to be like it was. But (Sunday) was a good indication that he is still capable of making big plays."
But as supremely confident as Johnson is, he admits that he couldn't have such a career day without the offensive line blocking, without quarterback Brad Johnson throwing crisp passes and without another receiver taking some of the pressure off him.
Like Karl Williams, for instance.
"On any team, you have to know your role, and Karl is the perfect example," Keyshawn Johnson said. "He knows his role and he knows what he's asked to do. A lot of the routes that got me open were a result of Karl and Reggie (Barlow) being on the field. When you have Karl running straight at the safety and I'm coming on a crossing route he has to make a decision."
Williams, a seven-year pro promoted to starter in the absence of McCardell and Jurevicius, got the ball rolling with a 15-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
"If it's one thing, it is that I know my role on this team and that hasn't changed in seven years," said Williams, who had four catches for 49 yards. "I've been preparing myself as if I was going to be a starter since the start of the season, so nothing really has changed for me.
"As receivers, we knew that some different guys were going to have to step up and get it done."
Mann said Williams' effort in a supporting role is the byproduct of him playing like the lead guy.
"Those guys are in the wings and don't get a lot of shots, so when they do they have to make them count," Mann said. "It doesn't surprise me that he stepped up. He did an excellent job, ran some crisp routes. Guys that are third and fourth receivers have to produce when called upon. They are pinch-hitters and they have to produce. If they don't, we'll find new pinch-hitters."