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Sunday Punch

New 'recruits' have Spurrier expecting more

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2003

Rob Johnson has been sacked more than Publix potatoes. After sweet-and-sour NFL experiences at Jacksonville and Buffalo, the strong-armed former Southern California quarterback came to the Bucs, where he was no Brad Johnson thanks to a wont of getting tackled for losses.

So now, the Johnson who couldn't avoid negative plays for Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay has scrambled to another opportunity, hired by Washington as backup to second-year pro Patrick Ramsey.

With the Redskins, the man coaching Sakamoto Johnson will be noted QB scientist Steve Spurrier, a raging 1990-2001 success with the Florida Gators with a 122-27-1 record including a national championship and six SEC titles.

Spurrier passed on a 1996 chance to become Bucs coach. Fourteen months ago, old No.11 finally made the jump from his UF comfort zone, being hired at $5-million a year to reempower Washington's franchise.

So, about sad sack Rob ...

"Word is, he holds the football too long," Spurrier said at Redskins headquarters near Dulles Airport. "Rob (when pressured) tends to run left or right out of the pocket when the best escape route is almost always up the middle.

"Everybody knows Johnson is a big fellow with a strong arm. Our hope is to coach him into getting rid of the ball more efficiently and scrambling in more promising directions, cutting the chances of defenders dragging him down.

"For us, Rob was the best available NFL quarterback with experience, and at the right price ($1-million for 2003), to hopefully provide stability as backup.

"I really like Ramsey and expect good things. He's a kid from Tulane who can make all the throws and, despite our inadequate pass blocking last season, showed good toughness and courage in the pocket."

Spurrier and wife Jerri live 15 minutes from Redskins Park in booming northern Virginia, not far from the historic Revolutionary and Civil War town Leesburg. All of their children are grown and married except Scotty, a 16-year-old sophomore who runs track at Loudoun County High.

They don't plan to sell their Gainesville home. "This is a four- or five-year thing for me," Steve said of his Redskins gig. "Then we'll go back to Florida." They also have an oceanfront condo at Crescent Beach, an hour from G-ville.

Spurrier's first year was a turbulent ride. Washington went 7-9 and Redskins owner Dan Snyder heard voluminous criticism about going with a college guy.

"Our players weren't good enough and we also didn't coach well enough," Spurrier said. "I thought some of my more successful quarterbacks with the Gators (Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews) could get it done for us, but it didn't happen.

"Right now, there's not a Gator on our roster. We did sign a (Florida State) Seminole, getting Laveranues Coles (free-agent wide receiver from the Jets). But me and Laveranues both have some less-than-pleasant memories about some people in Tallahassee, so we should get along fine."

In college football, a struggling coach with too little excellence among his players must recruit efficiently to have a chance for hallelujah seasons. In the NFL, there is a college draft, but spending a load of money -- wisely -- is vital.

"Mr. Snyder's checkbook and his enthusiasm to win seem to be pretty good recruiters," said Spurrier, who turns 58 a week from today (April 20).

"We unquestionably have better players on our roster than in 2002. Now we've got to coach better."

Washington has signed 11 free agents. A speed receiver was needed, so Coles got a $13-million deal. That rotten blocking by Spurrier's offensive line was mostly blamed on guards, so Snyder picked the Jets' pocket again, obligating $7-million for Randy Thomas. Dave Fiore, a guard from the 49ers, came to the 'Skins for a $6.33-million package.

Washington also snagged former Bucs defensive end Regan Upshaw from the Raiders. A dependable kicker was needed and the 'Skins got John Hall, one more time from the Jets, for a $7.13-million deal.

"We're not making any outlandish predictions," Spurrier said, "but we're trying hard to be better; hopefully a lot better." While his Redskins were mediocre, Steve watched the Bucs, a team he could have coached beginning in 1996, pluck the sweetest NFL plum at Super Bowl XXXVII.

"We stayed with the Gators and won a national championship, with Danny earning the Heisman," said the chap who won the sport's most famous individual trophy as UF quarterback in 1966. "So that was most worthwhile.

"I'm all for the Bucs. Tony Dungy (who became Tampa Bay coach after Spurrier declined) got Tampa Bay real close with that great defense, but it always seemed to end in the cold at Philadelphia.

"Jon Gruden came in, got the Bucs over their Philly hump and then won the Super Bowl. I'm hoping, in 2003, we get a lot closer to where the Bucs went last season."

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