Josh Johnson exists somewhere in that gray area between first and second string. He struggled as a starter in 2009—throwing to Michael Clayton and a gimpy Antonio Bryant—and didn’t do much to dissuade Josh Freeman’s ascendancy, but in the preseason, he’s been an athletic, reckless, yardage-eating dynamo. The Chiefs didn’t have an answer; Johnson passed for 108 yards—more than all three of Kansas City’s quarterbacks combined—and his 57 yards on the ground led all players in rushing.
He took some unnecessary sacks and was quick to run with the football, but Johnson’s throws were tight and on target. He didn’t force any passes. He moved well in the pocket, converted two first downs with his ridiculous speed—and almost a third, scrambling for 17 yards on third and 18—showcased his unbelievable release and quick feet, and left the Chiefs defense a befuddled mess.
He’s auditioning for a starting job in 2012, and if he keeps it up, he’ll get his chance. Because once Johnson relieved Freeman midway through the second quarter, he became the best player on the field. And it wasn’t close.
OTHER STANDOUTS: Dezmon Briscoe, Kregg Lumpkin, Anthony Gaitor, Mason Foster, Daniel Hardy, Dekoda Watson, Kyle Moore, Michael Bennett, Michael Koenen, Robert Malone, etc, etc, etc… lots of standouts in a 25-0 victory.
I’m reluctant to call a rookie “bad” in the first preseason game following an abbreviated offseason, especially with Demar Dotson and James Lee’s struggles as the game wore on. But I kept my eye on Adrian Clayborn for most of the night—not that I had a choice; you can spot the man’s dreadlocks from the nosebleeds—and I saw him play with strength and intensity and fire, but also reluctance. He made two outstanding tackles in the backfield and applied decent pressure to Kansas City’s quarterbacks, but he looked lost out there on several drives.
On Thomas Jones’s 17-yard scamper in the first quarter, Clayborn beat Leonard Pope with a swim move and broke into the backfield, but hesitated as Jones burst through a gap in the line and into the secondary. Who knows what his assignment was on the play, but I was hoping to see Clayborn squeeze down the back of the offensive line and meet Jones at the hole before he broke through. His split-second indecision is the difference between 17 yards and a play for no gain.
And later that drive, tight end Jake O’Connell got under Clayborn’s pads and drove him four yards off the line of scrimmage. Running back Jackie Battle ran through the vacated gap for a gain of five yards—or what would have been a gain of five, if he hadn’t coughed up the football.
I’m picking on Clayborn. He did a lot of good last night. I didn’t expect to see Reggie White in game one, and his effort, though sometimes sloppy, was far from “bad.” I’m highlighting some of the negative here—creating a frame of reference—in hoping that he shakes off the cobwebs quickly and becomes the defensive end we need: that angry, violent presence that we’ve been hearing about in camp. The signs are there; let’s see how he progresses.
OTHER OFF-DAYS: James Lee, Brandon Carter, Demar Dotson.
With his oustanding performance, Kregg Lumpkin assumed pole position as the Buccaneers’ third down back. And after the game Allen Bradford had last night, Lumpkin might also be the leading man to back up LeGarrette Blount.
As I said above, it’s wholly cruel and unfair to judge a rookie—coming off a work stoppage—in his first NFL action, but I was under the impression that Bradford was a power back with a bit of breakaway speed.
And he might be fast, who knows? He definitely didn’t get a chance to showcase his open field moves in Kansas City, running for only 10 yards on eight carries. Five of his carries went for less than three yards, and his best run of the night—a five-yard dive into the right side of the offensive line—was negated on the following play by a Demar Dotson false start.
Bradford looked tired. Uninspired. Disinterested. Hesitant. He looked like he was running in mud, and with the spark Lumpkin created last night—and Earnest Graham waiting in the wings—Bradford’s far from a lock to make the team.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Devin Holland, big hits are awesome. But big hits on defenseless players won’t make you many friends and definitely won’t find you a spot on the roster. I’m sure it was an accident—an error that surfaced amidst the chaos of NFL football—but fans are quick to label players in this league; don’t make too many more of those mistakes.