Less than 24 hours after losing to the New York Giants 24-0 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, the 0-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced a quarterback change Monday morning, benching Byron Leftwich and naming second-year QB Josh Johnson the team's starting signal caller.
Johnson, a 2008 fifth-round pick, will make the first start of his NFL career in Washington vs. the 1-2 Redskins on Sunday.
The move comes shortly after Tampa Bay's offense fell flat vs. New York's defense, producing just 86 yards of offense and no points.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris explained the decision to bench Leftwich in favor of Johnson during his Monday morning press conference. His answers to the media's questions can be read below:
Morris on if he had already told the quarterbacks about the decision. "We already spoke to Byron and Josh," said Morris. "I wanted to hit those guys before I talked to those guys. We're in constant evaluation of our football team. We made that decision today."
Morris on what Johnson brings to the offense that Leftwich did not. "Josh provides us with some more options," said Morris. "He allows us to go out and compete and do some different things. I sat down with my staff and general manager Mark Dominik, and made that decision today."
Morris on Johnson's mobility. "He definitely gives you that dynamic," said Morris. "We're not making excuses with behind without our starting center, but Josh creates a different matchup for people. He gives you a better chance to break out of the pocket and make a play with his feet."
Morris on whether Leftwich will be the No. 2 or 3 quarterback. "Josh Freeman will be the number two, so he'll be expected to be ready to go and keep improving as a pro, which I believe he's doing," said Morris. "He's got to prepare as the No. 2 for now on."
Morris on the decision coming after he watched the game film from Tampa Bay's 24-0 loss to New York. "I hate to make this about Byron because Byron wasn't the guy that jumped offsides on the second play of the game or the one that let the three technique in the backfield on a first down run," said Morris. "He missed a few throws. He didn't give us the accuracy we needed. But it's not all on Byron. But that position, just like the head coach, is usually the one that gets the blame."
Morris on how Leftwich took the news. "I talked to Byron this morning and he said, ‘I knew we had to get some wins early.' Now we're moving on," said Morris.
Morris on whether there will be more changes made to the lineup. "This is a young team," said Morris. "We've got to look at all our young players and see what they are, what they're going to be and what they're capable of being. This probably won't be the only change, but it certainly will probably be the biggest."
Morris on Tampa Bay's need to establish the running game. "The thing that won't change is the run. We still have to establish the run," said Johnson. "We haven't run the ball well in the last two weeks, and we haven't done that. That has to happen up front.
Morris on Johnson adding some things to the offense. "The thing that you get from Josh Johnson now is some of the quicker throws, some more timing things, but he can still handle the play-action passes and throwing the ball down the field," said Morris. "He's a pretty accurate quarterback. I have a lot of confidence that we can remain similar to what we've been. Josh just gives us a few more options with the obvious gift of the legs."
Morris on whether the team will rally around Johnson. "This team is going to get behind whichever quarterback is leading them," said Morris. "These guys they believe in that whole quarterback room. They believe in those guys. I think the key word today is accountability. That is what Barrett [Ruud] started hitting on. Antonio Bryant started hitting on that a little bit. Obviously you give them the questions. It has got to be accountability. It has got to be everybody self-evaluating themselves. It has got to be everybody getting back in the lab and finding out what you can do better to win football games. Like I said, Byron is suffering the consequences, but he didn't drop a ball on third down. He did not get a first down on third down. He didn't let that three technique come through the line of scrimmage and hit anybody in the backfield. There is a bunch of different examples of that on tape. We had an opportunity to win and didn't. He didn't miss any tackles. It is everybody having to self-evaluate. It is easy for everybody to look at one person, and blame anybody, but you have to go back and look at yourself and look at what you did. Including me. We all do."
Morris on promoting Johnson over Josh Freeman when he described Johnson as a career backup earlier in the year. "I think I said that wrong," Morris said. "We were playing the Cowboys that week so I was using Jason Garrett as a positive example. What I really meant, and I told these guys that to I didn't want to be portrayed wrong because that is my team, I told Josh [Johnson] I was saying I want him to be on our team for 10 years. Jason had been on the team for 10 years and had been a backup for Troy Aikman, and guys like that. Steve Young, I'm sure the 49ers wanted him to be a career backup. It just so happened that he decided to be a Pro Bowler, and decided to go to the Hall-of-Fame. That is what I meant by that comment. I explained that to the team. I didn't bring it back to you guys. I didn't think it was important to you. Josh Johnson is a guy that when I talk about I talk about how he prepares. How he prepares when he is not the starter because that is the only thing we've seen. The reason why he was the number two to start season out is because I know what I'm going to get from Josh Johnson in a game whether he is getting every rep in practice or not. It is just like yesterday. He is going to come out and execute the game plan. He is going to know every protection. He is going to know what the defense is going to look like. He is going to be prepared. That's why I used the backup reference because that was his role. Josh Johnson has got an opportunity, a great one. With him being here for the long term, and being here for the last two years with [Olson], him being here in the system for the last two years. It did chance a little bit, but a lot of similarities when you talk about protections and you talk about the running game a little bit, and the running game has probably changed the most. The passing game concepts, things of that nature, progression of reading, how to lead an offense, you talk about staying in the huddle, not twisting the words in the huddle, all of things he's developed the last two years with [Olson]. He's been apart of that six o'clock program in the morning for a year, and he went through that. He'll come back and tell you right now that was the best thing for me as a professional, as a quarterback. He's got an opportunity and he's earned it."
Morris on whether Johnson can lead the team to more wins than Freeman right now. "I don't want to say that, but I think he's earned the right, right now to have the opportunity, and he has," said Morris.
Morris on getting the running game on track. "That's got to be (the priority) for everybody, it doesn't matter who is the quarterback," said Morris. "When you talk about the running game that has got to get back going. It has to. It has to be there. We have to force our will some how to get that thing going. We have to. We can't go out and let what happened yesterday. I keep coming back to this point, but the second play of the game to get off track like that can't happen."
Morris on how he gave Johnson the news. "I told Josh Johnson you're going to get an opportunity," said Morris. "Here it goes. His reaction was exactly as I thought it would be. I said ‘Hey you're replacing Byron Leftwich'AND he goes ‘Byron's my dude, but I understand I got to go out there and get this win.' He looks at it as a great opportunity, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with it."
Morris on when he thought about making the QB change. "It's in your mind right away, but I don't want us as an organization to look at that game and think it's completely all Leftwich's fault," Morris said. "I'm still not saying that. The guy did not jump offsides. The guy did not block the three-technique. He did not miss a tackle. It's not all Leftwich's fault, but [the quarterback] is the guy that always gets the sword, and he's getting it right now. It's tough and he knows – we all know – that's where we are."
Morris on whether Johnson is on a short leash. "I don't put anyone on a leash," Morris said. "I didn't put Byron Leftwich on a leash. I didn't say, ‘Hey, win the first three games and we'll see what he does.' That wasn't the thought process right from the beginning. He's the answer. I don't want to think about failure. He has to go out there until he gets it done and see if he can get it done."
Morris on Leftwich serving as a mentor as the No. 3 quarterback. "I don't want to lose Byron Leftwich – the guy he is and who he is," Morris said. "He looked me in the eye and told me, ‘Coach, I ain't going to change.' He's a great guy to be around. Magic Johnson I call him with that smile, that personality and that glow. That's the reason he was the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season – one of them."
Morris on whether there will be other depth chart changes made. "You might see other people getting more playing time," said Morris. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a switch of the starting guard, though."