Could EC's Johnson be on Bucs' radar?

East Carolina running back Chris Johnson may be the most versatile back in the NFL Draft. His ability to run, catch and return is enticing to teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who crave all three. Are the Bucs interested? talked to someone who knows and he talked about Johnson and the Bucs extensively.

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East Carolina's Chris Johnson has a knack for rushing, receiving and returning.

Want proof? He's just the 11th Pirate to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a career (2,982). He holds the school career record with 125 receptions by a running back. He finished his career with 6,993 all-purpose yards to set an East Carolina record.

It's not hard to see why NFL teams are targeting the 5-foot-11, 195-pound back as a first- or second-round selection.

Are one of those teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It would appear so, according to Eric Cullison.

Cullison is a University of South Florida journalism major who graduated in the same class as Johnson at Orlando's Olympia High School. Cullison's father, Mike, was Johnson's high school football coach.

And Mike spent plenty of time at Olympia's practices watching Johnson. He knows Johnson's talent and he knows Johnson's character.

"I can tell you during his senior year (in high school) he was hurt for a while, but he still dressed out in full pads," Eric said. "He was on crutches and he put his pads on. He was completely trying to get back on the field."

Johnson overcame injury issues in 2006 — turf toe and neck surgery — to establish a new Conference USA record with an average of 227.69 all-purpose yards per game. That figure led the nation, and he was 24th with 109.5 rushing yards per game. He became the 24th player in Division 1-A history to amass more than 6,000 all-purpose yards in a career.

Eric's father still speaks with Johnson on a regular basis, including just before the National Scouting Combine. Mike related his conversation to Eric later.

"(Johnson) said they (he and the Bucs) were talking and they (the Bucs) were giving him some praise," Eric said of the conversation. "They really liked what he was doing. (The Bucs said), ‘Once you go to the combine, run your 4.38 and we'll get in contact with you when it's done.' Chris said, ‘Hey, coach, not to be disrespectful but if I run a 4.35 I'll be disappointed.'"

Johnson ran the best 40 time of any back at the combine, a 4.24. That might have made him undraftable for the Bucs, as some mocks have Johnson in the late first round now.

The speed didn't surprise Eric when he watched on TV. He saw Johnson run a 10.38 100-meter time in high school.

Eric has no doubt Johnson's skills translate to the next level He saw it during Johnson's senior year of high school.

"He really came into his own his senior year (of high school)," Eric said. "He really worked hard and he wasn't using his speed anymore. He was using his vision. He has the things you want in a running back. I've seen enough of his film to know that even though he's a speed guy he'll take it inside 2 or 3 yards and they try and break it."

As for the Bucs, Eric is hopeful that in two months Johnson's name will be read off when the Bucs select.

"He's saying that Washington and Seattle are looking pretty hard," Eric said. "But he definitely wants to be a Buc. He's been in North Carolina for four years and he likes the Bucs and he's a Florida native. He wants to play for them."

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for 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.

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