No one recruited him. He went to a lightly regarded school. But he put up great numbers.
That's San Diego quarterback Josh Johnson, but one could easily use that description for current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jeff Garcia when he left San Jose State in 1993. Garcia found no takers when he went pro and had to play in the CFL for five years before he finally got a break.
Could Johnson find a more fortunate fate? He's generating plenty of buzz during the offseason evaluation period after an eye-opening performance at the East-West Shrine game.
"My story is crazy," Johnson said. "I'm small, not recruited, a former NFL quarterback (former San Diego coach Jim Harbaugh) recruits me to a school a lot of people think is San Diego State once I say San Diego. It was a non-scholarship program, and as he changed the program around, my life began to change on and off the field."
Now Johnson may get drafted in April. And the team drafting him could be the Buccaneers. Johnson met with the Bucs at the East-West game and reportedly the team is intrigued.
Once you look at Johnson closer, it's easy to see why. It's also easy to see how one could easily make a comparison between Johnson and Garcia.
First, there's their physical makeups. Johnson is 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds. Garcia is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds. They're both as likely to use their legs as their arms to make plays. Anyone who watched Garcia last year knows what he's willing to do with his legs.
But like Garcia, Johnson is not a Michael Vick type. His coaches have stressed that Johnson is a quarterback first, not a runner first.
"He's not a stereotypical athletic quarterback," San Diego wide receivers coach Steve Mooshagian said recently. "He's a quarterback first. For this level (Division I-AA), he's in a class by himself."
Second, they're both efficient quarterbacks who value ball protection and resist the temptation to make mistakes. Garcia entered last season with the fourth-lowest interception percentage rate of all time, the third-lowest interception rate among active quarterbacks and the sixth-highest touchdown to interception ratio of all time. He threw 13 touchdowns against 4 interceptions last season while completing nearly 64 percent of his passes. Garcia has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in six of his nine NFL seasons.
Johnson? All he did was throw 43 touchdown passes against 1 interception last season and completed 75 percent of his passes at one point.
|San Diego QB Josh Johnson brings intangibles to the table reminiscent of current Bucs starting QB Jeff Garcia. (Mia Malafronte/AP Photo)|
"It was a scramble play, and I was rolling out," Johnson said. "I kind of threw it slightly across my body. It kind of ricocheted off the tight end's chest up in the air and he (the defender) caught it."
Johnson admitted that at Oakland (Calif.) Tech — that's right, he grew up in the same area of northern California as Garcia, who grew up in Gilroy — his coaches cussed him out every time he threw an interception. The coach who recruited him to San Diego, Harbaugh, instilled ball security in Johnson's head in more conventional ways.
"He (Harbaugh) always said, ‘If it's not there, don't fight it,'" Johnson said. "In our offense, the West Coast offense, it was always the checkdowns, take it, and I had the ability to run. He just told me to take what they give you and sometimes they're going to guess right and if you're not able to do anything you can always throw it away. The way I look at it, if I'm not hurting my team, then we're making progress. So the more positive plays the better."
That echoes some of the same comments Garcia made last season.
Finally, the pair played in West Coast offenses in college. Garcia is considered a system quarterback in that sense, as his greatest successes as a quarterback have come in that offense.
Johnson is capable of making the same type of throws as Garcia, which makes him valuable to any team that runs the West Coast offense.
He knows he has two perceptions to overcome. First, there's the perception that as a Division I-AA talent he may not be talented enough to make the jump from college football to the NFL. He said he feels his experience at the East-West Shrine game helped NFL teams see he can be successful against Division I-A talent.
Second, there's the stigma every quarterback with solid running statistics feels coming out of college. Johnson rushed for 720 yards last season. Some teams may see him as simply another running quarterback.
But Johnson has a logical explanation for why his numbers were so high.
"Anyone who has actually seen my film, they understand the way I play the game," Johnson said. "I drop back, and I never just tuck it and run. I go through my progressions, and then take off and run. A lot of teams, there was two options they tried to do — they tried to all-out blitz us to get me to get rid of the ball, and that's what I did — or they'll drop seven or eight men in coverage. The defense is going to guess right sometimes and it is my ability to run, (so) that's why I run for a lot of yards."
The NFL is a copycat league, and some coaches even find ways to copy their own success. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden knows what Garcia meant to his team last season. He also knows that a quarterback with Garcia's similar talents could put up similar, or even better numbers.
Especially if that quarterback is a younger version of Garcia. Perhaps Johnson is that younger version.
Garcia made it into the NFL the back way, and Johnson knows it. And he's putting his faith in it as he referenced Garcia on Friday.
"I really can't model myself, but you see guys like (Tony) Romo, Tom Brady, Garcia, who took backroads, and just know they worked for what they got," Johnson said. "You never know what can happen."
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.