Flynn's Focus: Will The Bucs Keep 4 Quarterbacks?

May 27 – There are several intriguing battles at One Buccaneer Place, but perhaps the most interesting contest is at the quarterback position. Bucs QB Brad Johnson is currently the team's starter, but will Shaun King's intangibles or Rob Johnson's mobility tempt head coach Jon Gruden to make a change? Where does Bucs QB Joe Hamilton, who is playing in NFL Europe, fit into the equation? A closer look at Tampa Bay's quarterback competition is in order for this installment of Flynn's Focus.

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The stiff competition between Bucs quarterbacks Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and Shaun King have some wondering if Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has opened the door for a quarterback controversy. Gruden has said the starting quarterback position is up for grabs, and the team welcomes competition. But where exactly will each quarterback land in the rotation?

Each quarterback brings something different to the table for the Buccaneers, which make the quandary that much more interesting.

As of right now, it looks like QB Brad Johnson is the team's starter. He's picked up Gruden's offense quickly during the Bucs' offseason workouts. He's been very accurate and the only thing he's lacking is mobility. Although Gruden likes a mobile quarterback, he's been impressed with Brad Johnson's decision-making ability and his ability to throw out of the pocket.

Bucs QB Rob Johnson has also caught Gruden's eye in workouts this offseason. Rob Johnson is a very mobile quarterback. He's displayed the strongest arm out of all of the quarterbacks, and he's accurate, too. Johnson seems more comfortable throwing on the run versus out of the pocket. While mobility is a plus, Gruden and Co. would like to see Rob Johnson show more patience in the pocket and display better decision-making ability. Gruden brought Rob Johnson in himself. Some say it's because he sees some of the same characteristics in Rob Johnson that he saw in Raiders starting QB Rich Gannon when Gruden coached in Oakland.

Tampa Bay QB Shaun King is in the best shape of his career. He's responding well to the competition King is picking up Gruden's offense quickly, but during the first two mini-camps, he was a bit inconsistent. Gruden made it clear that he liked King when he first arrived in Tampa in February. King is mobile and although he doesn't have the strongest arm, the biggest frame or the tightest spirals, the team likes his intangibles and play-making ability.

Both Rob Johnson and King have one-year remaining on their contracts with the Bucs. After the dust settles from training camp, the Bucs will likely proclaim the better player as the quarterback of the future and give him a long-term contract. The other quarterback will likely be out of the mix unless Tampa Bay decided to release or trade Brad Johnson due to poor performance and/or high salary. Brad Johnson's cap value in 2002 is $6.8 million, but it actually drops to $5.8 million in 2003. The Bucs wouldn't mind seeing King step up and become their quarterback of the future. After all, the Bucs have a lot more invested in him than Rob Johnson. King was Tampa Bay's 1999 second-round draft pick. Rob Johnson was signed to a one-year contract worth about $675,000.

Three of Tampa Bay's four quarterbacks have significant starting experience and have taken teams to the playoffs, but QB Joe Hamilton can't put those accomplishments on his resume. Tampa Bay's 2002 seventh-round draft selection out of Georgia Tech is playing with the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe, but his absence from Tampa Bay's offseason workouts could hurt Hamilton's chances of securing a spot on the Bucs' 53-man roster. By the time Hamilton finishes in NFL Europe, he'll be almost four months behind Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and King in terms of learning the offense.

Hamilton wasn't given much of a chance to succeed in the NFL because of his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame. But in his two years as a pro, Hamilton has been "The Little Quarterback that Could", if you will. Last season, Tampa Bay brought in QB Ryan Leaf, who was the second player picked in the 1998 NFL draft. But Hamilton was impressive during the team's training camp and convinced the Bucs to part ways with Leaf and keep Hamilton as Tampa Bay's third-string quarterback.

Earlier this offseason, the Bucs signed free agent QB Rob Johnson, which didn't bode well for Hamilton. But if you thought the addition of Rob Johnson was going to number Hamilton's days in Tampa Bay, think again.

The Buccaneers like Hamilton, and they like what he's doing in NFL Europe. Hamilton has led Frankfurt to a 5-2 record. His numbers haven't been the most impressive (completed 51.3 percent of his pass attempts for 1,301 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions), but he's causing some to wonder if the Bucs will take four quarterbacks into their 2002 regular season campaign.

Tampa Bay will likely keep six wide receivers and at least five running backs and three tight ends on their 53-man roster, which will make it hard for the Bucs to keep four quarterbacks. The NFL is,however, currently considering a recent proposal that would allow teams to add a sixth spot on their practice squads, which would be reserved for quarterbacks. If the proposal is approved, the Bucs could sneak Hamilton onto the practice squad for the 2002 season, and after they determine who will be the quarterback of the future, Hamilton could come back into the picture in 2003 as the team's No. 3 quarterback.

Unless there's an injury and/or the NFL approves the six-man practice squad proposal, Hamilton will likely be the odd man out. He's just too far behind the other quarterbacks to compete on an even playing field. As for the battle between Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and King -- well, let's just say that still is a work in progress.

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All photos are courtesy of Pewter Report director of photography Cliff Welch unless noted otherwise

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/

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