SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:

I had the chance to catch up with my good friend Ronde Barber at lunch Wednesday at Grimaldi’s in Westshore Plaza. I say good friend because that’s truly what he is to me. I am friendly with several former Buccaneers I’ve covered over my 20-year career.

I coach Pop Warner football with former Tampa Bay tight end Anthony Becht. Another ex-Bucs tight end, John Gilmore, is also a part of the South Pasco Predators organization and coaches up at our field.

Former Tampa Bay wide receiver Maurice Stovall is a personal trainer in Land O’ Lakes and trains athletes from age six (including my elementary school age boys) all the way up to NFL players. I also have an occasional lunch and play Words With Friends on a daily basis with former Bucs defensive end Tyoka Jackson, whom I consider a friend.

REYNOLDSBARBERLUNCHBut Barber is special. Forget the fact that he had a glorious, 16-year career playing cornerback for Tampa Bay and is the team’s all-time leading interceptor. He’s an amazing human being and one of the smartest guys I know.

He’ll have his day in the Bucs Ring of Honor soon, although I think former Tampa Bay safety John Lynch gets in before Barber does because he retired first. Both deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but I believe Barber has a better shot due to more compelling statistics and his longevity.

At age 40, Barber enters his third year of retirement and working for Fox as an NFL color analyst with partner Chris Myers. Truth be told, Barber still looks like he could play one more season in the NFL.

Because he and Myers work Tampa Bay’s preseason games, Barber is around One Buccaneer Place all the time behind the scenes, watching film with general manager Jason Licht and director of player personnel Jon Robinson, who welcome his presence with open arms.

“They came into a tough situation, to be honest with you,” Barber said. “Five years ago this team was dismantled and never really put back together. It was a somewhat veteran team that became a very young team, and some of those young guys aren’t around anymore. I think there is only a guy or two from Gerald McCoy’s draft class left on the roster. So you come into that situation knowing that you’ll start from scratch. Their two-deep roster did not look good last year. Being able to balance your books and finding a way to develop guys is key. Good teams draft and develop guy. I’m sorry, but they do. That’s how it’s done in this league. Nobody makes a team in free agency anymore. It’s just not the way it’s done.

“I’ve gotten to know Jason and Jon over the past year and a half and they are going about this the right way. They took their lumps in free agency last year, which they quickly rectified. They drafted a quarterback in Jameis Winston, who they think they can be a quarterback for 12 years. He can be a quarterback for the team for the next 12 years. They are building for the long term. Nobody really knows who Jason Licht is. Nobody really knows who Jon Robinson is. But they have a chance to make a name for themselves by turning around a team that has been too far under the radar for far too long.”LICHTROBINSONQUARLESOTAMAY

Barber, who is the only Buccaneer to play with two of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round – Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman – by the franchise, strongly believes Tampa Bay drafted the right quarterback in Winston.

“I like him because he’s an accomplished quarterback and he’s young,” Barber said. “I don’t know much about him personally. I’ve only met him twice, but he was exceptionally nice and respectful, which you appreciate in young guys. You don’t always get that. I watched some film on him and he looks the part.”

Like me, Barber has some reservations about former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was drafted with the second overall pick by Tennessee. While I likened Mariota to former athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks like Heath Shuler and Jake Locker, Barber thinks Mariota could eventually develop into an Alex Smith-type player in a few years.

“I think it’s going to take some time [with him],” Barber said. “From an ex-player and fan of the Bucs perspective, we needed a guy that can play now like Jameis. The argument that Marcus is or is not an NFL quarterback is not mine to make. But as an analyst, I believe it’s going to take him some time for sure. I think it will be a couple of years down the road before he develops. He may surprise me, I don’t know. In my mind, he’s a two- or three-year project – maybe four years until he comes into his own. In my opinion, Jameis is a guy you can plug in and he can go win games for you.”

Barber said that having targets like wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, last year’s rookie sensation, would only help Winston develop quickly as a rookie. Barber said he doesn’t believe that Evans will fall victim to the sophomore slumps that have afflicted former Bucs wide receivers Michael Clayton and Mike Williams.

“He’s different,” Barber said. “I like Mike because I think he’s a great kid. I did a feature on him in the preseason and he’s not what I thought he was. I’m somewhat biased towards him because he’s a great kid. But on the field he has rare athletic ability and he hasn’t even really started to work at it yet. He’s only in his third year of playing football. He played in high school, but I don’t count that. He had two years at Texas A&M and last year as a rookie. He has so much further to go.

“Mike has a young tight end he can grow with. He has a young quarterback he can grow with. He has a veteran receiver in his room he can learn from. I think he’ll be like a Randy Moss or a Cris Carter. I would hate to be the guy trying to defend him. The sky is the limit for that kid.”

Bucs WR Mike Evans had a second-straight 100-yard game - Photo by: Mark LoMoglio/PREvans was one of the few bright spots in Tampa Bay last year. Barber admits he didn’t see a 2-14 record coming in 2014, but after doing four preseason games he saw plenty of holes in Tampa Bay’s roster and knew the Bucs would face some real challenges in Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach.

“I went into it like all of you guys – you are cautiously optimistic about some of the additions and some of the subtractions,” Barber said. “But after having done four preseason games you could see there was going to be a struggle there. There were some deficiencies there along the O-line for sure. The quarterback play, specifically, wasn’t good. But it was a decision that they were going to live with, knowing the head coach.”

As someone who played most of his career in the Tampa 2 scheme and is the prototype nickel cornerback for that system, Barber anticipated the Bucs defensive players struggling to learn the defense that requires a great deal of discipline in terms of technique and timing when to get to their landmarks on the field.

“Learning a new system on defense – and I watched a lot of film in the preseason and the regular season – there was a big adjustment period needed for some guys even in Week 17 on that side of the ball,” Barber said. “It will be interesting to see what advancements are made this offseason. That being said, good teams are defined by good players. We need some good players to develop in Tampa before the Bucs return to that respectability stage again.”

Barber totally agreed with the offseason moves made by Licht, Smith and Robinson in bringing in veteran players that were well immersed in the Tampa 2 scheme whether they played for Smith in Chicago or in Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 defense in Dallas last year. Barber said players like Chris Conte, Henry Melton, Sterling Moore and Bruce Carter will help out the Buccaneers immediately.

“It’s smart,” Barber said. “This system – and I hate to say it – is old school now. In 1997 when I first got here through 2004 just about every team in the league was trying to run this kind of system. Over time you find exposures in it, and good quarterbacks know how to manipulate this defense. There is a natural evolution of this defense, but you have to have guys that can play in this defense. If you want immediate results you have to get guys that you don’t have to teach, and we’ve done that.”

If you haven’t noticed, Barber still bleeds red and pewter. Working the preseason games for WFLA has been therapeutic for him in that Barber still gets to keep close tabs on his former team.

NFL: AUG 10 Preseason - Buccaneers at Dolphins“It still feels like ‘we’ to me,” Barber said. “I don’t refer to the Bucs as ‘them’ unless I’m on Fox, and I consciously have to refer to them as ‘the Bucs.’ I’m still a part of the Bucs. It’s great for me to do the preseason broadcasts. It’s so much different than doing the regular season broadcasts for Fox. It’s an in-home network and our broadcasts are only coming to our Tampa Bay market, and I love that about it because it allows me to dive into our team. I learn about them and give the viewers what I’ve learned.

“We do put some work into their opponents, but I’m at Bucs training camp most every day and I spend a lot of time watching practice film, spend time with the G.M. and the coaches and the scouts. It’s good to be a part of it. I’m no longer paid by the Bucs, but it feels like I’m still a part of the organization, which is very fun and rewarding.”

Instead of spending time preparing for an upcoming football season by doing OTAs and mini-camps as he did for 16 years, Barber has spent the past three offseasons watching a ton of game film – but not coaches film. He actually watches taped TV broadcasts so he can listen to different announcers and commentators and study how they cover NFL games. Barber has spent a lot of time studying NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, whom he says does a great job of introducing different players to the audience and telling their story.

“I don’t know that I admire anybody,” Barber said. “That’s not my deal. There are some guys that do it well. Collinsworth does it well. Troy [Aikman] does it well. They’ve been doing it a long time. I like the path that John Lynch took to get here. It’s kind of the path I took. I don’t really follow much of the CBS guys, but I do like Trent Green. I like the way he approaches covering games. I do watch film – I mean the games – and listen to them talk. I learn about offenses a little bit different than when I was playing because I learned it from a defensive perspective.”

NFL: NOV 14 Buccaneers at FalconsLike he became one of the best playmaking cornerbacks in NFL history, Barber aims to become one of the best broadcasters covering the sport he loves.

“Like anything new that you do, it’s a challenge,” Barber said. “It’s a learning curve. It’s like it was when I was learning new defenses. It’s the same thing with what I’m doing now. A lot of the work that was done for me when I was preparing for games [by the assistant coaches], I have to do now for myself. That’s good because it keeps me involved and keeps me motivated to learn. 

“I talk to John Lynch about this a lot – about how to do our job. There is no manual. There is no right way to do it. There are ways some guys do it, but you have to find your own way. You go about it as best as you know how. I think my second year was better than my first year, and hopefully my third year will be better than my second year. But just like I did when I was playing, I’ll attack it and study it, which I have been doing this offseason. I’ll try to be the best at it.”

I would be remiss to let a conversation with Ronde Barber go by without talking about Tampa Bay’s secondary, which showed some promise towards the end of last season after being under siege during the first half of the 2014 campaign. After all, Barber is as well versed in Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier’s Tampa 2 defensive scheme as anybody after making five Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams.

I started off by asking Barber about the play of Tampa Bay’s two starting cornerbacks, Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner. While Verner was second on the team in pass breakups with nine and third on the Bucs with two interceptions, Banks came into his own last year and finished with a team-high four interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington RedskinsBarber saw the team name Mike Jenkins the starter at right cornerback over Banks in the preseason because of his supposed lack of speed, but liked how the second-year player responded and finished the season.

“You know I can appreciate guys that can succeed in spite of what other people say,” Barber said. “I like where Johnthan is going and I can respect where he’s going. Much like me when I was in my early years in this system, people are always going to want to point his limitations. And he has some. I had some. But he’s a smart enough player and he has a nose for the game and a nose for the football. It’s unquantifiable. He can make himself into a good player and he was doing that at the end of last year.”

Despite having four years worth of NFL experience and a Pro Bowl berth in 2013, Verner struggled to master the techniques and nuances during his first season in Tampa Bay and failed to meet his expectations and the team’s expectations for him.

“When this defense was rolling and we were rolling in this defense it felt like you could put anybody in this scheme as long as they had the technique down,” Barber said. “In watching the Bucs on film last year, there were some technique gaps there, especially in Cover 2. Cover 2 sounds like such a simple defense, but there is a ton of stress on the cornerbacks from the snap on. From the re-route to the opening of your hips and finding that landmark between the underneath routes and the deep routes there was a time Alterraun wasn’t doing it right – none of them were doing it the right way – and it came back to bite them. And it did a lot.

“You start not doing the right things and your technique is a little off and you are getting some passes completed on you. All of a sudden, you aren’t having a good year, but you are still a good player. I think that’s all that happened to him. I think he has a ton of talent watching him in the preseason and in practice. He has the short-space quickness that you need, the burst and explosion. I expect a bigger year from him. He has to have a bigger year. He didn’t have the year he wanted.”

NFL: SEP 07 Panthers at BuccaneersWhen talking about the nickel cornerback position, which was manned by Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey last year, Barber shook his head in disbelief. I asked Barber, “What if I told you that the nickel cornerback position didn’t come up with its first interception until Week 17?”

“I would be pretty shocked,” Barber replied. “That also has a lot to do with what you have up front. We were dominant because of the way those guys played up front back in our day. Myself and some of the other players in the secondary had such knowledge of the defense that we could take some calculated guesses and we made a lot of plays on the ball for a lot of years because of that.

“For the nickel position to not affect the ball all year long like that is a crime, much like the Will linebacker role, which also struggled to create turnovers. I don’t think Lavonte [David] had the type of year he wanted to have. Those two positions require knowledge, instincts and the ability to move well in space. We had guys in place last year and still didn’t make plays on the ball. It has to be better. That’s where the turnovers come from in this defense.”

Veteran Sterling Moore has joined the team and will compete with Johnson, Frey and rookie Deshazor Everett for the right to start at nickel cornerback this season. Like the nickel corner, the safety positions went the first 15 games without an interception, too, which was shocking.

“The weakside safety, the safety away from the tight end, is capable of making big plays, but it requires 10 other guys doing their jobs right,” Barber said. “It was a position that never got paid here and was always shuffled through. Some good ones came through here. The free safety is the guy – like Dexter Jackson back in the day – that could also play down in the box. That gives you so much more versatility. That position has to play well.

Dexter Jackson second quarter interception“The free safety has to be able to rely on his Mike linebacker. He has to rely on the underneath coverage from the Will, the Sam and the nickel. If he’s instinctive, he’ll make a ton of plays. Dexter Jackson was the Super Bowl MVP for a reason and he played it better than anybody.”

Barber said replacing Mason Foster, who wasn’t overly fast, with a faster, athletic middle linebacker Bruce Carter is a step in the right direction. Adding Chris Conte and DJ Swearinger to the mix along with Bradley McDouglad and Major Wright will also bring more playmaking to the defense.

Tampa Bay’s secondary only accounted for 10 of the team’s paltry 14 interceptions last year. To put that number in perspective, the Bucs defense had 31 picks during the 2002 Super Bowl regular season with the secondary cashing in on 20 of those INTs.

Barber only had two interceptions the 2002 regular season, but had two in the playoffs, including one he returned 92 yards for a touchdown to clinch a 27-10 win at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game and send Tampa Bay to its first and only Super Bowl.

The Buccaneers went into the 2015 NFL Draft wanting a big running back to complement Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Doug Martin, who gets one last chance to prove he can stay healthy and be productive thanks to new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who wanted him back this season. Seldom-used Mike James filled that role last year with lackluster results, rushing for 37 yards on just 19 carries (1.9 avg.).

Koetter likes a mix of different type of runners, and had a big back in Steven Jackson, a multi-purpose back in Devonta Freeman, a scat back in Jacquizz Rodgers and a speed back in Antone Smith in Atlanta. Sims and Martin are vying for the majority of carries, while Rainey is a scat back that can provide a change of pace with his quickness and cutting ability. James is battling undrafted free agent Dominique Brown for the big back role, and the Bucs may have found a gem in the rookie from Louisville.

NFL: MAY 08 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS ROOKIE MINI CAMPBrown came to the Cardinals as a highly recruited quarterback, but moved to running back with the emergence of Teddy Bridgewater. Brown had a breakout sophomore season at Louisville, rushing for 533 yards and four touchdowns on 140 carries, in addition to catching 16 passes for 98 yards and another score. As a junior, he rushed for a career-high 825 yards and eight TDs on 163 carries (5.1 avg.), while catching 24 passes for 228 yards (9.5 avg.) and one score.

The Cardinals ran the spread offense with quarterback Reggie Bonnafon last year, who rushed 72 times for 164 yards, and Louisville featured a number of running backs, including Brandon Radcliff (737 yards, 12 TDs), Michael Dyer (481 yards, 5 TDs) and L.J. Scott (201 yards, 2 TDs), in addition to Brown, who only rushed for 378 yards and four touchdowns on 96 carries (3.9 avg.), while catching seven passes for 85 yards.

“We had multiple guys, and we’ve played different guys ever since I was a freshman,” Brown said. “They wanted to get more guys into the rotation this past year, so they just went a different route. We ended up playing four or five guys this season, which was productive for us because we ended up having fresh legs in there all the time. My coach just wanted to go a different way.”

Those stats diminished his draft stock, but Brown had an eye-opening week in front of NFL scouts, including Tampa Bay, during the East-West Shrine practices in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he was the MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, rushing for a game-high 70 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (3.7 avg.).

“It was a great experience for me to play against some of the best competition in college and get that exposure,” Brown said. “I needed to get invited to that game. I went at it with a different approach and a different mentality.”

When Brown went undrafted the Bucs called him immediately, told him to look at the depth chart and showed him that he could come and win a roster spot in Tampa Bay.

“It was great for me,” Brown said. “I felt like Tampa Bay was a great spot for me being a big back and coming in and competing. That want a player like me for this offense.”

Brown has impressed the Bucs coaches and scouts with the way he attacks the line of scrimmage and gets to full speed in an instant. Koetter wants a big back to run between the tackles in his offense, and Brown can do that and more.

“This pro-style offense is real similar to what I ran my junior year,” Brown said. “My senior year we ran a lot of zone read, and I didn’t have the year I wanted to have like I had my junior season. I think this offense fits a big back like me, who likes to run between the tackles with man blocking and power schemes. I really succeed in that type of offense.”

Brown wants to use training camp and the preseason to prove to the Buccaneers that he can be more than just a short yardage and goal line specialist. He wants to show to contend for the role of the third down back, which is typically played by scat backs around the league like Darren Sproles, this year with his unique physical traits and skill set.

“I have 4.62 speed and I weigh 245 pounds,” Brown said. “I like being a big back in the third down situations, especially when teams want to blitz. I can protect the quarterback with my size or be used as a receiver to pick up the first down.

“I try not to limit myself. I want to become an every-down back, but whatever they need me to play during my rookie season, whether it is short yardage or goal line as a big back, or do more of everything – I’ll do it. I love this offense. I think my best year in college was my junior year where we had Teddy on offense and we ran a lot of inside zone and power and that’s where I succeeded. I can succeed here, too.”

In last week’s SR’s Fab 5, I discussed how pleased the Buccaneers are with their Day 3 acquisitions from this year’s draft class, and highlighted linebacker Kwon Alexander, the team’s fourth-round pick. The team is just as high on wide receiver Kenny Bell, Tampa Bay’s fifth-round selection, who has made a number of sensational, acrobatic catches in practice during the Bucs OTAs, including a couple on Thursday, which was the first day the media got to watch.

The well-built Bell is 6-foot-1, 197 pounds and is bigger and more muscular than he was last year at Nebraska. And while he still has a ways to go before he looks like the chiseled Vincent Jackson, Bell spends a considerable time picking the brains of the veteran receiver, as well as Mike Evans, last year’s rookie phenom.

“That’s a double-edged sword,” Bell said. “VJax is a finesse, really savvy guy that knows everything in and out about the NFL and playing in an offense. That’s the guy I go to when I ask questions about executing in an offense, and I ask him how to stay around as long as he does? He’s got all those answers.”

“Mike is the same way in some respects. Mike has some of those answers, but Mike is just so talented. He’s a real talented guy that makes so many plays. That’s the guy I look up to in terms of playmaking.”

Bell is not only a guy that can make plays with the ball in hand, evidenced by 23 touchdowns for the Cornhuskers. Like Jackson and Evans, Bell loves to throw crushing blocks to spring his fellow receivers and running backs for big plays on the perimeter.

“VJax and Mike are both great blockers,” Bell said. “You just turn on the film and you watch them play. They’re unreal. It’s something I took pride in back in college, and it’s something I will continue to take pride in here in the NFL.”

Bell is being cross-trained at flanker, split end and also in the slot, and he comes to the NFL with enough polish and playmaking ability to see some playing time as a rookie on offense – not just on special teams.

“I’m moving around just like every receiver,” Bell said. “They are moving us rookie receivers all over the place to see how we do and what we retain. I’m definitely not special in the fact that I’m moving around. All of the young guys like myself are moving around. That makes you more versatile and more valuable to the offense. I go in to spell the vets right now. I move in when VJax or Mike need a break. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

BELLACROBATICCATCHBell isn’t the only rookie receiver that is catching the team’s eye. Rannell Hall, Donteea Dye, Adam Humphries and Kaelin Clay are all shining in practice, as the wide receiver position appears to be loaded this year in Tampa Bay. That could spell trouble for holdover receivers like Russell Shepard, Robert Herron, and possibly even veteran Louis Murphy.

Sources tell that Dye is actually the most explosive receiver on the team, and he, Clay and Humphries are all being worked into the mix for the punt return duties, too. Bell is a lock to make the team, and I think Clay is, too. He made a sensational play in Thursday’s OTA in 11-on-11, running a crossing route from right to left and then outracing everyone for a 50-yard touchdown down the left sidelines once he turned the corner.

But Dye, Humphries, who resembles New England’s Julian Edelman, and Hall are also legitimately in the mix, too. These are not just training camp bodies. The Bucs could very well keep as many as four rookie receivers this year, in addition to Jackson and Evans, with one of them winning the return specialist duties. It’s up to them to continue to impress during camp and the preseason, but they are off to a great start.


• Bucs running back Doug Martin looks slimmer than the 223 pounds he’s listed at on the roster, and faster as a result. He showed a tremendous burst on some of his runs in Thursday’s OTAs that resembled some jaunts from his rookie year when he made the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns.

SIMSBIGGEROTAThat’s a good sign as Charles Sims looks bigger and more muscular than the 211 pounds he’s listed at on the roster. Sims needed more size to break tackles in the NFL, as that was a problem for him last year as a rookie.

Martin is in a contract year after the Bucs declined to pick up his fifth-year option, will battle Sims for the right to be the starter. Martin says there are no hard feelings about the “prove-it” situation the team put him in this year after rushing for just 494 yards and two touchdowns in an injury-plagued season.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Martin said. “It’s just something that comes along with the business end of it. If I do everything that’s under my control, everything will fall into place. It’s just part of the business and if I play to what I know I can do, everything will fall into place.

“I love this place. I already have my own house here and I’m just doing the backyard right now and it’s almost finished, so I would love to be back here.”

So far, so good for Martin, who is in tremendous physical condition along with Sims.

• As expected, the Bucs were practicing some spread offense in terms of the passing game on Thursday with five receivers at the line of scrimmage, which is typical of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. But they all weren’t wide receivers. The Bucs offense featured three wide receivers and a running back and a tight end flexed out on some plays, and four wide receivers and a running back flexed out in others, which is similar to what Atlanta has done over the past couple of years under Koetter.

The Bucs also ran some very effective draw plays with Doug Martin, Charles Sims and rookie Dominique Brown bursting through the middle of the defense with great success. I can’t say that I’ve seen a draw play since Jon Gruden was at the helm of Tampa Bay’s offense back in 2008.

• Kudos to veteran Bucs guard Logan Mankins for a kick ass playlist during Thursday’s OTA, which was the first one opened up to the media. The practice started with Paradise City from Guns N’ Roses and ended with Hot For Teacher by Van Halen, and featured AC/DC, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Ratt and the Scorpions in between. That’s my kind of music, and I definitely approved of Mankins’ selections.

MANKINSCHISELEDSpeaking of Mankins, he looks to be in phenomenal shape, just as I wrote about in a previous SR’s Fab 5. The burly beard is gone and he’s dropped about 10-15 pounds from the looks of it, and appears to be much more quick and agile.

And as I wrote about a few weeks ago, Mankins was running wind sprints during practice with other offensive linemen when not taking reps during the 11-on-11 periods. Mankins’ body was not prepared for the Florida heat and humidity last year after playing his entire pro career in the cooler climate of New England, but conditioning will not be a problem this season.

• Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Kenny Bell made a tremendous first impression on me after Thursday’s practice. He’s incredibly bright, well spoken and humble, and you can just see that he has a real star quality about him. I love Bell’s humility, and that will serve him well in the NFL.

“It sinks in that I’m an NFL football player every day when I wake up,” Bell said. “That’s one thing I really try and appreciate. This is football. None of us out here know how long it’s going to last. In the morning I’m tired and I’m sore, but I make sure I tell myself that I can’t imagine how many people would like to be in my shoes and to be thankful for the spot I’m in.”

• Thank you so much for your prayers, concerns and well wishes for my friend Xavier Johnson, and for your donations to the Johnson family to help with medical bills. If you aren’t aware of who Johnson is, he’s a 16-year old linebacker at Sunlake High School, and eldest son of Ross Johnson, whom I coach with in the South Pasco Predators Pop Warner organization.

“X” as he is known to family and friends, suffered a brain injury when his head hit a dock at full speed during a jet ski and tubing accident two weeks ago in Land O’ Lakes, Fla. He was knocked unconscious at the time and has yet to wake up. He was placed in a medically induced coma shortly after being admitted to the hospital to help reduce the swelling of his brain and heal the bleeding of his brain.

Johnson has successfully battled pneumonia and a minor staph infection, and has slowly been weaned off his coma medicine this past week. The hope is that he will wake up from his coma on his own this weekend or early next week as the coma medicine leaves his body. The extent of any damage to his brain – if any – is unknown at this time and will not be known until he regains consciousness.

The good news is that Thursday night his reflexes in his hands and feet were responding to being pinched by the doctors, and that his eyes were twitching and instinctively following the light of a small flashlight as his eyelids were opened by a nurse. Those are all good signs of synapses firing naturally within the brain. You can read a more detailed update here.

At the conclusion of Thursday’s OTA at One Buccaneer Place, Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who knows X, who is a huge Nebraska Cornhuskers fan, from visiting our Predators practice two years ago, sought me out and asked about his condition. That was such as class act from David, who has a big heart and has been moved by this tragedy.

NFL: MAY 08 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS ROOKIE MINI CAMPWhen I shared the news that Johnson might come out of his coma as early as this weekend, David gave me his new cell number, said he would be in town this weekend and to call him as soon as X wakes up. What a tremendous guy David is.

After that I went to rookie receiver Kenny Bell, who also hails from Nebraska, and told him Johnson’s tragic story and he said he would definitely join David in visiting X in the hospital when the time is right within his recovery. When I said that St. Joseph’s Hospital is conveniently right across the street from One Buc Place, Bell said, “I don’t care if that Huskers fan was in Jacksonville or Orlando, I would go see that kid wherever he was.”

The Bucs definitely drafted a good guy in Bell.

The good news is that over $11,000 out of the requested $50,000 has been raised in one week on a gofundme page for the Johnson family. But that will only cover a few of the medical bills the Johnson family will receive and more help is definitely needed. Here’s a link to the fundraiser page if you are inclined to make a donation. Obviously, the bigger the better, but every donation helps, and $25 is the most common amount.

Former Bucs great Ronde Barber was also moved by X’s story and will help in the fundraising for the Johnson family. He has donated some very special, unique Bucs Super Bowl items that we will auction off in the coming weeks to help raise money. If you are a Bucs fan and a fan of Barber’s you will definitely be interested in this memorabilia. Stay tuned to for more details.

And finally, it was very cool for Barber to send this message for Johnson to see when he comes out of his coma. It really lifted the spirits of the Johnson family and they can’t wait to show X when he wakes up.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at:
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6 years ago

I.m not getting that good feeling that we should have high expectations for this season. I do agree that the team looks better than last year, but i don’t know how that pans out to many wins yet. Way too early to predict much of anything. go Bucs! Stay healthy.

6 years ago

We will be lucky to be 500 this yr, way to many holes to still plug and so many unproven rookies to count on to have any expectation for this yr, this is a wait and see yr. Scott thats cool you know so many ex Bucs I met John Lynch and Simeon Rice both class guys and I have pics with both, Derrick Brooks who I met and who is my all time fav Buc was disappointing to meet I met him at the super bowl fan fest in AZ and while he was there to greet fans he… Read more »

Reply to  jongruden
6 years ago

I saw Brooks at a lightning game once and watched him greet and be cordial to everyone of the Bucs fans who bugged him. No s**t, must have spent 2hrs being nice. I have a hard time being nice for 10 minutes.

Reply to  chetthevette
6 years ago

Well he was not nice the day I met him

6 years ago

I do expect some decent improvement this year. What I really want to see this year and next is signs that this franchise will become a top tier, class organization and perennial winner for the next ten years or more. GO BUCS!….

6 years ago

Getting rid of both Murphy and Shepard would reduce the Bucs Wr experience to zilch. Just going to have to keep the best player of the bunch!

Reply to  flashgordon
6 years ago

I don’t know why I’m not that excited about Dominique Brown; but, I suppose he could be better than both Mike James and Iosefa(Iosefa is to one dimensional).

Reply to  flashgordon
6 years ago

I’d keep Shepard on special teams alone. Louis Murphy is going to have to hold his own.

6 years ago

Good to see members of the team rally around X. Hope all goes well with him.