Athlete Update: Brad Johnson

Former FSU star and Tally resident Brad Johnson and wife Nikki are preparing for their son's first birthday today. Johnson also is preparing for his second season with the Bucs, under new coach Jon Gruden. Of course, Johnson keeps a watchful eye on the 'Noles and likes QB Chris Rix. "I think the more he gets comfortable playing, he's going to be one of the best quarterbacks to come out of Florida State," Johnson said.

A 10-year veteran of the NFL, Brad Johnson has dealt with pressure and praise. He understands the importance of preparation and production. He has enjoyed regular-season intensity and playoff excitement.

That's all wonderful, but none of those experiences can prepare Johnson for today. His son, Max, is celebrating his first birthday. Break out the camera, video recorder, paper plates and napkins.

'It's going to be wild. He's going to tear that cake up," Johnson said and laughed.

While Johnson, 34, and wife Nikki prepare their Tallahassee home for Max's party, Johnson, a former two-sport star at Florida State, has already started preparations for his second season as the Tampa Bay Bucs' starting quarterback.

The team recently held its first of three minicamps under first-year coach Jon Gruden. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Gruden, known for his intensity, was all over the field, barking instructions and demonstrating how he wants things done. Gruden's first chore was to begin installing his version of the West Coast offense.

"I thought camp went really well, considering it's a whole new system, new terminology," Johnson said. "The plays are real similar to what we ran in the past. The concept is the same. But the difference is all the shifts, personnel changes and movements and how he presets the play. The terminology is totally different. People say West Coast but it's not really West Coast. He has worked a lot of different systems into one system."

In addition to a new scheme, the Bucs will have several new players on offense next season, including running back Michael Pittman and quarterback Rob Johnson, the former Buffalo starter who has been brought in to compete with Johnson and Shaun King. Brad Johnson believes Gruden's scheme is a good fit. Gruden inherited a team that's made the playoffs four of the past five years.

"I feel very comfortable in it," said Johnson, who completed 341 of 561 passes for 2,956 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. "I think it fits perfectly to my style of play. I love working with Jon. He's very smart, very funny. He gets the most out of his guys. I think it's great and everyone is looking forward to a big year."

DIFFERENT STYLE

Gruden's intense style is a stark contrast to the laid-back personality of former coach Tony Dungy, who was fired in January after losing in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

"It's two different deals," Johnson said.

"But from Bobby Bowden to Denny Green (former Minnesota head coach) to Norv Turner (former Washington head coach) to Tony, all different personalities. But every one of those guys is successful. I don't think Tony Dungy got enough credit for being in the playoffs the last four of five years, being at the level he has and winning as many games as he had. There are different ways to skin a cat. Obviously, (we have) an offensive-minded coach compared to a defensive guy."

While Johnson and the Bucs must deal with a period of adjustment under Gruden, Johnson sees similar circumstances at FSU in terms of rebounding from last year's disappointing 8-4 mark.

BACK HOME

Johnson was a four-year letterman with the Seminoles (1988-91) and part-time starter at quarterback, splitting time with Casey Weldon. Johnson also played hoops at FSU under coach Pat Kennedy, scoring 170 points in the 1987-88 season. Johnson's wife Nikki is the younger sister of former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt, now the head coach at Georgia.

"Obviously, it wasn't what they expected," Johnson said of the Seminoles last season. "They've gone through a lot of changes themselves. I think this was the first year they really got caught up with a lot of younger players and they also had some injured guys, which hurt them especially in the beginning of the season. But they finished on a blaze, especially with Chris Rix having the season that he did. He's only going to get better.

"I think they are destined to have a big year, but that 13-game schedule adds a little more pressure and makes it tough."

Even so, Johnson likes what he sees in his alma mater. Of course, he has paid close attention to the progress of Rix, who overcame early struggles in his first season as a starter to earn Rookie of the Year honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"I really enjoyed watching him play," Johnson said. "He makes a lot of plays. He has a big-time arm and is a tremendous athlete. I think the more he gets comfortable playing, he's going to be one of the best quarterbacks to come out of Florida State. He progressed as the season went on.

"Obviously, he had the (injured) receivers at the beginning of the season and I don't think their running game was as good as they wanted it to be at times, so I think a lot of pressure went on him but he handled it well. Every QB who has ever been at Florida State has gone through a struggling period and he handled it. He can make a lot of plays, and that's what is exciting about him."

Of course, Johnson also is excited about moving into his new Tallahassee home, as well as celebrating his son's first birthday. He also remains extremely proud of FSU's accomplishments under Bowden, who continues to amaze folks with his energy and competitiveness at age 72. FSU's unprecedented string of 10-win seasons and top-five finishes was snapped at 14 last season.

"When you think about it, it's really unbelievable," Johnson said. "Being in the NFL for 10 years, you hear a lot of nightmare stories from other players talking about their head coaches or having to go through head coaching changes. The stability has been there (at FSU). To win that many games and to be in the national championship and winning two is incredible. They probably don't get enough credit. Plus, these other teams are getting better, especially in the ACC. People are always catching up, which means you have to work that much harder."


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