Early this week, head coach Raheem Morris promoted second-year quarterback Josh Johnson to start in place of Byron Leftwich, now third on the depth chart. With all the offseason banter about quarterback competition and the first-round selection of Josh Freeman, Johnson has gone practically unnoticed.
This Sunday, he cannot help being noticed. So, who is this kid, anyway?
The Buccaneers selected Johnson from the University of San Diego in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. An NFL scouting report described Johnson as:
“One of the game’s best-kept secrets, at least where the national media is concerned, Johnson has greatly impressed professional scouts that have actually seen him perform. Many will agree that he is one of the most exciting athletes to watch with the ball in his hands, bringing back memories of Michael Vick and Vince Young during their collegiate days.”
While his professional resume is short, his college numbers speak for themselves.
In 2006, Johnson received consensus All-American recognition at San Diego and was named Division 1-AA Offensive Player of the Year by The NFL Draft Report. He led the nation with a 169.02 passing efficiency rating, an average of 334 yards total offense per game and 3,320 passing yards. He completed 66.3 percent of his passes (246 for 371) with 34 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also rushed for 720 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns.
In 2007, he tossed a school-record 43 touchdown passes, led the nation in total offense and finished his career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing efficiency at 176.7.
In his NFL debut on Sunday against the Giants, he completed four passes for 36 yards and broke a 15-yard run in relief of Leftwich. Several dropped passes, including one by Michael Clayton in the back of the end zone, contributed to an otherwise impressive drive stalling at the Giants’ 5-yard-line. The promise he showed on that drive coupled with Leftwich’s inability to move the ball led Morris to make the switch at quarterback.
“I think the secret is out of the bag,” Morris said. “This a young team. We’re in constant evaluation of our guys. We have to look at all our young players and see what they’re going to be – what they have the opportunity to be. It certainly won’t be the only change, but it certainly will be one of the biggest.”
Johnson will be the 12th quarterback to start for the Bucs since Trent Dilfer last started in 1999.
“The reality of the situation is, I’ve seen the talent we have,” Johnson told Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times. “I’ve seen it on display and I know what we’re capable of as a team. My job is to put those guys in a position to make plays and that’s all I can do – get them the ball and let them make plays. If I take that mindset, we’ll be all right.”
Many were surprised by the promotion after Morris anointed Johnson a “career backup” just weeks ago. Freeman will be the backup, for now, as Johnson appears more prepared to start.
“I know what I’m getting from Josh,” Morris said. “He’s going to be prepared. Josh has an opportunity, a great one. He’s earned the right.”
Overall, Johnson brings something Leftwich could not: Mobility. Though the offense has been effective with the exception of Sunday’s dismal performance against the Giants, it has been anything but opportunistic, often squandering chances for big plays with dropped balls and overthrows.
“Am I surprised?” Johnson said. “Yes. Am I ready? Yes. Will I prepare the same way? Yes. But it’s not just about me turning this thing around. It’s about all of us turning this thing around to start getting wins.”
He hopes to start that trend when the Bucs visit the 1-2 Redskins on Sunday.