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1. JOHNSON MAKING STRIDES At the 2008 rookie mini-camp, I sat down with fifth-round pick quarterback Josh Johnson to have a conversation for the Post-Draft issue of Pewter Report magazine. At that time, Johnson was a pretty soft-spoken shy guy that did not elaborate much on his thoughts and views concerning his draft experience and his first week with the Buccaneers.
During his rookie season Johnson gradually became more loquacious. Behind the scenes Johnson was being developed, and former head coach Jon Gruden was excited about his progress in what was viewed as a redshirt season for him.
Speaking with Johnson this week, the maturation and growth of the young quarterback is undeniable. Johnson speaks with confidence, and right now speaking with Johnson reminds me of talking with quarterback Luke McCown.
In any conversation that anybody has with McCown, one can hear the confidence that he has in becoming an effective quarterback. McCown is confident, but not cocky. He expresses his belief in his abilities while also respecting his teammates, and in the past that included the quarterback that was the starting ahead of him. Johnson has that tone, and it is very evident in Pewter Report's story about Johnson competing to start from earlier this week.
A fourth quarterback is going to be brought in at some point this offseason to compete with McCown, Johnson, and Brian Griese for the right to be the starter. Johnson and McCown have a head start on the other two competitors because they have been at One Buc Place practicing and meeting with offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
While Johnson's progress is undeniable, he is still more likely to be backing up a starter next season in Tampa Bay. Since arriving with the Bucs the biggest knock on Johnson from the coaching staff, front office staff, his teammates, and himself was that he was not an accurate passer in practice. Players told Pewter Report that Johnson would typically hit two passes and then miss two throws. Johnson brought us up to speed on his attempt to become a more precise passer this week.
"It's been coming along well," said Johnson. "It was a matter of getting used to the game. It's starting to slow down for me. It's obviously faster than what I was used to in college, but it's not as fast now as it was when I first got here. When Coach Gruden talked to me he said, ‘This year is for you to learn. Next year you will have the opportunity to compete.' The new regime feels the same, that last year was my year to learn and this year is my chance make strides as an NFL quarterback."
Not only is he trying to become more accurate, the 6-foot-2 Johnson is continuing to develop his body and add weight to help him take the hits that come with playing quarterback in the NFL.
"I want to add weight and get to the 210 to 215 mark," Johnson said. "The other day I was 206, 207, which is heavier than what I was all last year. Last season I was between 200 and 202. I'm trying to get to 210 to 215 and get as much weight on before it gets hot out here. That is the personal goal of mine after watching last year and seeing the kind of beating that you take in the game."
For a point of reference, Griese checks in at 6-foot-3, 214 pounds. McCown is 6-foot-3, 212 pounds. Last year starter Jeff Garcia was listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, but this reporter believes those numbers were generous because Garcia looked smaller, and sources confirmed that he was easily the lightest of the four quarterbacks.
Looking back across Johnson's history, there is no reason to believe he will not be measuring in the same area as McCown and Griese in the very near future.
"My weight and my height led me to San Diego, just being underdeveloped," said Johnson. "My senior year in high school I was 5-10, 145 pounds, and I ran a 4.9. I didn't develop until towards the end of my senior year when I was playing basketball and running track. I started to mature a lot more. When I got to San Diego I kept developing, and I still am. I feel like I'm a better quarterback now than I was last year. If I knew at San Diego what I know now who knows what I would've put up.
"I was 160 pounds when I first walked into the gym. I've actually gained weight every year since the end of high school. My sophomore year I was 170, my junior year I was 180, and my senior year I was 190. A lot of people don't understand where I started. They thought I've been this size my whole life. It has been a slow process and a grinding process, but it is getting better."
For Johnson, the redshirt has come off and next week's mini-camp marks the true beginning of his opportunity to become an NFL quarterback. While he has a lot of physical gifts, Johnson now has confidence and more mental maturity to add to his list of strengths.
"I feel that I like to have fun with the game," Johnson said. "I love the game, and that is how I play the game. I like to have fun out there. I feel like my greatest asset is the way I prepare. I really understand the game of football, I'm not sure why, but something with this game clicks with me. On the field I am very competitive. If there was something that I wasn't able to do before then I'm going to work hard to get it right. That is the type of player that I am. I try to be the best at everything I do. I never settle for less, and like with the Houston game by my standards I didn't play as great, but impressed the coaches enough for them to not want to put me on the practice squad. That was the most work I had all preseason, but by my standards I felt I could have played a lot better. That's fueled me and burned me to prepare for this season, so when I get the opportunity next week when we start (mini-camp), and when I get in with [Jeff] Faine, Davin [Joseph], Earnest Graham, and Antonio [Bryant] and I finally get to get in the huddle with those guys and I know where I was at, and where I am now, so I plan on taking advantage of the opportunity."
Johnson completed 8-of-13 passes (61.5 percent) for 85 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in preseason. He rushed once for a loss of two yards and had a fumble that was recovered by the Texans. That was only extensive playing time for Bucs fans to get a look at Johnson last season.
If a late-round pick at quarterback develops into a competent NFL backup signal caller then that is definitely a draft pick well spent. Right now, this reporter believes Johnson is very close to making that the reality. While Johnson is competing to start, Bucs fans should be pleased if he makes the team as a viable number two quarterback that can help the Bucs in spot duty.
McCown has already done that. He proved to be an effective backup quarterback in the 2007 season when he went 1-2 as a starter while playing with mostly backups in at least half of his playing time. That one win, a 27-23 win over the Saints on Dec 2., was also the biggest of the season, and all but clinched the NFC South Division championship for the Bucs.
Quarterbacks like Tom Brady who go from late-round picks to franchise quarterbacks are rare, and placing those kinds of hopes and expectations on Johnson is misguided and not fair to him. Once Johnson proves to be a good backup at the NFL level, then the goal of starting and becoming an elite quarterback can be discussed, just as it is now being thrown out there for McCown by his head coach and general manager.
2. FAINE LOOKS TO FILL LEADERSHIP VACUUM When the Buccaneers released five storied veterans including franchise great Derrick Brooks prior to free agency, new Bucs head coach Raheem Morris called various players on the team to tell them the news ahead of time and give them the charge of filling the leadership vacuum left in the locker room.
Center Jeff Faine was one of those players, and he gave Pewter Report some insight into that conversation.
"He said I needed to step it up a little more and help with the transition period here," Faine recalled of Morris' conversation with him. "It's been 15 years since there wasn't a Derrick Brooks here. There's a void there. There's going to be some challenges there, but I welcome it and I think there is enough leadership in the locker room to fill the void. I just don't know if it will be fully filled. That's going to be a missing part for quite some time.
â€¨"I'm the old man now. It's not even on the offensive side. The void is where Derrick Brooks was. That's huge. That's going to have to be a group effort. That's not going to be one person stepping into those shoes. On the offensive side of the ball I was going to handle that anyway. It's the team captain. Filling Derrick's shoes isn't going to be one person. It might not be all four or five captains that can get it done, either. That's going to be a huge void. I have a ton of respect for that man."
Faine put his leadership skills on display with the Buccaneers immediately upon his arrival from New Orleans. At the conclusion of the 2008 preseason, Faine was voted a team captain by his teammates. In fact, Faine replaced teammate Davin Joseph as a captain. The vote was out of Faine's control and he did not lobby for that designation, but was happy to lead his teammates.
"It was a tremendous honor," said Faine. "It was something I didn't expect from the pure fact that no one knew me. I knew I was going to try to lead this team as a captain regardless, but to have that recognition from guys getting to know me during the offseason and seeing my work habits throughout camp, it was a great honor and said a lot to me about the respect my teammates had for me. It was unexpected, but I'm glad it happened."
Part of being a leader and a captain is backing it up with great play on the field. Faine did that in his first season in Tampa Bay. While he was designated a Pro Bowl alternate, he was just as deserving as Cowboys center Andre Gurode and Giants center Shaun O'Hara, who played in the game. With a new coaching staff and likely a new starting quarterback, Faine's leadership is going to be in even more demand next season.
3. FAINE HAPPY TO BE REUNITED WITH WINSLOW One player that is expected to help Faine with being a leader on the offense is newly acquired tight end Kellen Winslow II. Faine and Winslow were teammates for one season in Cleveland in 2004, which was Winslow's rookie season. Joining Faine and Winslow from that '04 Browns team are now Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Bryant and McCown.
"I was fortunate enough to see Kellen when he first got in the league," said Faine. "It's been really unfortunate with all of his injuries. When he first got in the league he was unbelievable. He ran better routes than any receiver. He was running conditioning tests with the receivers and outrunning them by 20 yards. He really was phenomenal, and he still is. You can just tell he isn't what he once was, but he's still an amazing athlete. With the horses of him on one side and [Jerramy] Stevens on the other side, and we still have Alex Smith and we still have John Gilmore, that tight end position is stacked and is going to cause some problems for defenses when we have Stevens and Winslow in the game. What do you do? They can run routes just like receivers, especially in the red zone. You can just toss the ball up to Stevens and he'll come down with it. It's tough. I'm glad we brought in Kellen and still brought back Stevens because it's going to be a tough offense for defenses to handle."
What Faine said about Winslow not being what he once was is a common thought across the NFL. After Winslow's horrific motorcycle accident in May of 2005, many thought his career was in jeopardy. Winslow came back and has been effective. Bucs fans should not be concerned about Winslow from Faine's comments. Winslow at 90 percent of what he was in his prime is still one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
Winslow has produced in the three seasons he has played since the accident. In 2006 he caught 89 passes for 875 yards and three touchdowns. His 2007 season was one of the best seasons from a tight end in NFL history. Winslow hauled in 82 receptions for 1,106 yards and five touchdowns. That was only the 14th time in NFL history a tight end went over 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
Last season in 10 games he made 43 catches for 428 yards and three touchdowns. All of those seasons are greater production than Tampa Bay has gotten from any of the other tight ends on their roster.
Faine also gave some insight into Winslow as a person and teammate.
"A lot of people misunderstand him. He's got a bad wrap," said Faine. "He's a great, great competitor. He just wants a lot out of his teammates. That's all he has ever asked of them. Sometimes the truth isn't what a lot of people want to hear, and it can cause some problems. But Kellen speaks the truth. He wants the most from his teammates because he's a great competitor. I love the fact that we brought him in here. He's going to be a huge asset to this team. This is a fresh team and a young team again." 4. WARD DISCUSSES LOGAN The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not made their new position coaches available to the media yet. That may change at the mini-camp next week, but to give you some insight into new running backs coach Steve Logan, Pewter Report caught up with running back Derrick Ward to get some insight.
"He's new to me too," said Ward. "From what I've seen so far he is a great coach. He is very knowledgeable of the offense, of the different things that we are going to do. He is very upbeat, and ready to teach us. I just can't wait to see what he is going to bring to the table and what is going to come about."
Logan was offensive coordinator under Jagodzinski at Boston College last season. His prior knowledge of the Bucs new offense gives him a head start over some of the other position coaches like quarterbacks coach Greg Olson, wide receivers coach Richard Mann, and tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts.