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Receiver turns nothing into key production

After two games of "zero, zero, zero,'' Keyshawn Johnson plays a big role in the offensive resurgence with 5 catches.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 26, 2001


TAMPA -- Before Saturday night, Keyshawn Johnson could count his preseason catches and yardage on two fingers. All he had to do was form a big zero.

Now he's going to need both hands and maybe a few toes.

Johnson finally made it into the box score Saturday, getting five catches for 37 yards against New England. Not coincidentally, the Bucs' offense had its most productive preseason game, totalling 362 yards and three touchdowns in a 20-3 win at Raymond James Stadium.

"I think it's a start in the right direction," Johnson said of the offensive production. "We have to obviously build on that."

It was lost on no one, particularly Johnson, that the Bucs' marquee receiver was pitching a shutout through the first two preseason games. "I've got zero catches for zero yards and zero touchdowns," he said last week. "Zero, zero, zero."

The Bucs seemed intent on changing that Saturday. On Tampa Bay's opening series, quarterback Brad Johnson hit Johnson on a quick screen. Johnson lost a yard on the play when he slipped, but the pass got him involved early.

They called his number again on the first play of the second quarter, hitting him for a 9-yard gain. The play converted a third-and-1 situation, giving the Bucs a fresh set of downs at their 33.

On the next possession, Johnson made his longest catch of the night. Slipping underneath the coverage on a crossing route, he snagged an 18-yarder over the middle for another first down.

Johnson's last two catches came in the third quarter when Tampa Bay was driving toward its second touchdown. Johnson caught a 4-yarder that left the Bucs a yard short of a first down despite his efforts to stretch for the extra yard.

After the Bucs picked up the first down on a 19-yard swing pass to fullback Jameel Cook, Johnson kept the chains moving with a 7-yard catch on a curl route at the Patriots' 13-yard line. Two plays later, the Bucs were in the end zone.

The real beauty of Johnson's night was that many of his catches were significant. Three were for first downs, two of which were converted on third down.

"I've been pretty productive in the league on third down before I got here, and I think (offensive coordinator) Clyde (Christensen) went back over the last several years to find that out," Johnson said. "And now he's saying here's the guy we have to put the ball in his hands if it's third down, especially when we're throwing the football."

Johnson said despite his inactivity in the first two preseason games, he never had to ask for the ball.

"I didn't have to say anything," he said. "That tells me the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach (Jim Caldwell) are on the same page."

The Patriots played deep a lot, forcing the Bucs to throw underneath their coverage, which took away the long pass. The Bucs were content with the short stuff, working Johnson into the flow by lining him up in different spots and running him in motion.

That made it more difficult for the Patriots to double cover Johnson, who made most of his catches by finding seams in the defense.

"I knew what New England was going to try and do in terms of trying to take me out especially on third downs. They were going to double me and play combination coverages and stuff like that," Johnson said. "So moving me around instead of leaving me stationary obviously helps."

Word to the wise. The Bucs don't play favorites. They're going to put Johnson in motion so he can try to exploit other teams the way he did New England, at times using his size (he's 6-4) to create mismatches against defenders.

"We're going to do that each week, try to move him around and find some match ups we can work with," receivers coach Charlie Williams said.

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