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Keyshawn imparts wisdom well


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 6, 2000

Keyshawn Johnson's value has far more width and depth than a football field.

The Key worked a wide-receiver screen on a new season's first preseason play, gaining 6 yards against Washington. Soon, he big-bodied-up to coverage king Deion Sanders, a Bucs target unlike anything Trent Dilfer or Vinny Testaverde ever saw.

Eventually, there came an adroit 15-yard Johnson sideline pattern, with the timing of a trapeze artist, preamble to an uncontested catch of a Shaun King first-down pass.

Keep the video-audio rolling.

Mike Alstott, well-established and power-running Pro Bowl personality of Tampa Bay's never-quite-sufficient offense, was in civvies. Just watching. Healing some painful snag from training camp.

There's a sweet Bucs upgrade going on, in search of more pewter-and-red yards and first downs and points, fueled by old pros Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy as new line studs on the block, plus a championship-hungry, athletically gifted and personally ebullient Keyshawn.

His receptions are vital if the Bucs are to approach Super Bowl point-scoring propensities, but No. 19's beyond-the-snags contributions as explosive, motivating peer are of parallel importance.

Jacquez Green scorched Washington corner Tim Denton, galloping free as a scud, accepting a King spiral for 31 yards, making it to within 40 inches of the end zone, table-setting for Friday night's only touchdown by Bucs starters.

With the enthusiasm of a Republican screaming "Go W!," almost instantly the accomplished voice of Keyshawn vibrated in Quezzie's ears. Not just a gentle low fiver but a fierce congratulatory shove. A new level of voltage for Tampa Bay's offense.

In the franchise's shortfalling past, Dilfer and Testaverde and eternally ill-fated Bucs quarterbacking brothers could look so lonely. Coming off the field to a non-reception, except for citizen boos. Strolling solo in the bench domain. Apparently without counsel. Seemingly devoid of friends.

After that definitive King-Green completion, Rabih Abdullah went bulling for the TD. Even in bad, old Bucs days, an accomplishment of points would get a festive sideline greeting from comrades. Similar stuff against the Redskins, only it now went far deeper.

Roll on, audio-video ...

After swigs of cool juice, three gents would sit side-by-side-by-side on Tampa Bay chairs. Johnson in the middle, King to his right and Green on the other flank. Talking football. With spirit. An All-Pro exchanging thoughts, imparting intelligence, savvy and emotions to new associates. How helpful might that be?

Alstott said, "Keyshawn brings a competitive edge." Green added, "We're learning little things and big stuff every day from Keyshawn." King offered, "He loves football; loves to win. Keyshawn makes such nice adjustments.

"You see him put that strong body into position, even against Deion, and a quarterback knows a properly thrown pass is likely to be caught but certainly isn't going to be stolen."

They had barely begun to sing a second exhibition verse when King, Johnson, Green, McDaniel, Christy and most of Tampa Bay's prime offensive hopes were told to leave the stage, sparing physiques for a long, meaningful grind that begins in September.

Eric Zeier didn't get much done as King's backup. Scott Milanovich was an even less impressive quarterback. I kept waiting for Little Joe to be introduced to his new Ponderosa. Finally, his ballcap was gone, replaced by a helmet.

There came Joseph Hamilton, the Georgia Tech runt who, last time I saw him in person, was flurrying passes to blister if not defeat Florida State, the 1999 collegiate champion.

By then, Keyshawn and Quezzie were sitting together atop a Bucs equipment trunk. Still talking. Professor and pupil. Looking constructive even at rest. Cheering for Little Joe, as backup hosses were getting their shots in the Tony Dungy rodeo.

Hamilton would become MVP of the Scrub Bowl. Marshalling the Bucs to a rehearsal-winning touchdown. Throwing a touchdown pass to rookie tight end Todd Yoder, one of three Vanderbilt fellows on Tampa Bay's roster.

Little Joe did some proving that a 5-foot-8 chap, who's charitably listed at 5-10, can be tall enough to work among NFL behemoths. "It was fun, but I know my place," Hamilton said. "I'm the fourth quarterback right now."

Right now. As the tryouts of August drone on, my eyes are eager to see more of Hamilton, even if it means less of Milanovich. As with Keyshawn and Shaun, there's something about the guy's electricity.

Remember a year ago, when an undersized Bucs rookie QB spiced a preseason whipping of the Redskins? Fellow named King, a local favorite from Gibbs High in St. Petersburg whom Bucs coach Dungy expected not to experience even a single regular-season play. A greenhorn who, as circumstances evolved, almost pitched Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl.

"Joe showed a lot of composure," King said, "even with some offensive breakdowns going on around him. Earning respect of teammates is really important to a rookie, especially a quarterback. Joe went a long way in doing that."

Shaun should know.

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