After generating just 26 sacks last year, which ranked last in the NFC, the Buccaneers have put a huge emphasis on getting to the quarterback more often in 2011, from hiring a pass rush specialist coach in Keith Millard to drafting two defensive ends with the team's first two picks in Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers to re-signing free agent defensive ends in Michael Bennett and Tim Crowder. In three preseason games, Tampa Bay has produced 13 sacks, which ranks fourth in the NFL behind Buffalo, Houston and Philadelphia, each of which have 14.
While more recognizable players such as linebacker Dekoda Watson (2.5 sacks) and defensive ends Bennett (1.5 sacks), Crowder (two sacks) and Kyle Moore (two sacks) have all gotten to the quarterback multiple times, it is unheralded George Johnson that leads the team with three quarterback captures. Johnson, who was a practice squad player a year ago, came to the Bucs as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers. He has been the model of consistency for the Bucs defense this year, recording a sack in each of the team's three preseason contests while running with the third team at right defensive end opposite Moore.
Pewter Report wrote about Johnson's exploits prior to Tampa Bay's 17-13 victory over Miami on Saturday night in Friday's Pewter Pulse column,
and Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris isn't surprised at Johnson's success.
“George is making it difficult, and he should. He’s been in the system,” Morris said. “He’s been here the last two years. He’s been up and he’s been down [from the roster to the practice squad]. I can’t say enough about his effort, his play and his consistency every week. He’s leading our team in sacks with three. That’s tied for the league lead I believe.”
Morris is correct. Johnson's three sacks is tied with Chicago DT Amobi Okoye, Denver LB Von Miller and San Diego DT Vaughn Martin for the league lead. With the Bucs typically keeping eight defensive linemen, but wanting to increase its pass rush in 2011, Johnson could solidify a roster spot and force Tampa Bay to keep nine defensive linemen with a strong showing in Washington on Thursday night. Because Morris plans on not playing his defensive starters in the game, Johnson figures to receive a lot of playing time in the second half of the team's preseason finale and will have plenty of opportunity to state his case for being on the 53-man roster in Tampa Bay – or elsewhere.
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