Bucs offensive coordinator goes out of his way before the combine in Indianapolis to meet with Keyshawn Johnson.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001
TAMPA -- If you want to connect with Keyshawn Johnson in the off-season, you have to go long.
That was what new offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen did last week, traveling 3,000 miles to Los Angeles to visit for just one day with the Bucs wide receiver.
Johnson, who was disappointed in the way the Bucs used him in his first season in Tampa Bay, was surprised and satisfied by the commitment Christensen showed to devising ways to get him the football this fall.
"I've played for some coordinators and they've never done that," Johnson, 28, said. "Nah, not really, man, none at all. I don't think ever. I've never had a guy come to my house and sit down and talk to me about the best way to get me the ball."
Johnson said it was obvious Christensen had done some homework before his coast-to-coast trip, reviewing film of how Johnson was used by the New York Jets.
"We went around, drove about the city, I did some running around and we had lunch," Johnson said. "And we talked about some of the things the Jets did with me. He'd researched the film (former offensive coordinator Les Steckel) didn't do. I could tell (he) didn't do it when they picked me up. (General manager) Rich McKay and (coach) Tony Dungy did, but the offensive coordinator couldn't have looked at it."
Christensen, who made a big detour Thursday on his way to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, tried to downplay his meeting on Johnson's home turf.
"I was actually trying to keep it low-key," Christensen said. "We had a nice visit. He's a big part of our offense. It was as much to get to know him better personally as anything else."
But making nice with Johnson wasn't the only goal. After being acquired for a pair of No. 1 picks, Johnson led the Bucs in receiving with 71 catches for 874 yards and eight touchdowns.
But except for the touchdowns, those numbers were slightly below his career averages and Christensen has vowed to make Johnson a bigger focus of the offense, particularly in the red zone.
So which kind of routes could Johnson run that could get the football in his hands several more times a game?
"Like slants and curls and moving from the Z to the X (receiver) position," Johnson said. "I think they're trying to see some things and watching film of what we were doing and didn't come back to or just didn't do enough. And they're trying to just simplify things."
Despite a good-faith meeting with Christensen, Johnson said the only way to know if it was productive is to see what transpires in games in the fall.
"It sounds good," Johnson said. "But we'll see."
Linebacker Jamie Duncan could accept a multiyear contract offer from the Bucs today rather than him getting a one-year deal for $512,000 as a restricted free agent.
Duncan, who took over from Hardy Nickerson last season as the starting middle linebacker, finished fifth on the club with 66 tackles. He was third on the team with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown versus Miami.
The one-year tender would guarantee the Bucs the right of first refusal for any contract Duncan might be offered, or require a team to provide a third-round pick as compensation for signing him.
Four other Buc starters, guard Frank Middleton, safety Damien Robinson, cornerback Ronde Barber and right tackle Jerry Wunsch, will become unrestricted free agents when the signing period begins Friday.
Only Wunsch, who is negotiating a long-term deal, is likely to remain with the team.
The Bucs, however, could have their eyes on another free agent.
Talks are at an impasse between the Vikings and Pro Bowl left tackle Todd Steussie, who is expected to be released Thursday to enable the team to reach the $67.4-million salary cap.
The Vikings want Steussie, who has a salary cap figure of more than $7-million, to take a reduction that would bring his deal to about $4-million annually. Steussie does not want to take a pay cut. The Vikings are not expected to raise their offer, setting the stage for Steussie to be cut and moving backup Brad Badger into the starting lineup.
With Jason Odom retiring, the Bucs have just two experienced tackles under contract, Pete Pierson and George Hegamin.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.