Flynn's Focus

December 13 – Brad Johnson is one of the hottest quarterbacks in football right now. Johnson has led the 10-3 Buccaneers to its best start in franchise history and he's thrown 15 touchdowns and just one interception over the last five games. It's obvious that the more time he's given to throw in the pocket, the more effective Johnson can be in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's offense. Read why Johnson might be Tampa Bay's offensive MVP this season in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

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Brad Johnson might be Tampa Bay's offensive MVP when the 2002 season is all said and done.

It's no secret that Johnson, 34, has not had much time to throw out of the pocket this season due to the inconsistent play of his offensive line. But that hasn't stopped Tampa Bay's signal caller from leading the 10-3 Buccaneers to its best start in franchise history, and he's put up some impressive numbers along the way.

Johnson, who has the best quarterback rating (94.5) in the NFC and is rated fourth in the National Football League, has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,796 yards and he's tossed a franchise record 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Johnson stands a great chance of breaking the Bucs' single-season record for quarterback rating, which is 85.3, held by Steve DeBerg (1987). And after his four-touchdown performance against Atlanta last week, Johnson also became the first offensive player in team history to win the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award twice in one season.

And just a few months ago, many people thought backup quarterback Rob Johnson, who is currently the No. 3 quarterback behind Brad Johnson and Shaun King, was going to unseat Brad Johnson as the starter.

I was actually one of the people who thought the Bucs should give Rob Johnson a shot in the beginning of the season, but it wasn't because I didn't think Brad Johnson was a good quarterback. I just thought he needed to have time to throw in the pocket, which the offensive line wasn't giving him. So, I thought the offense might be better off with a more mobile quarterback in Rob Johnson.

Rob Johnson has most of the physical tools that an offense could want in a quarterback and you'd think he'd be more exciting to watch because of his mobility. But Rob Johnson didn't beat Brad Johnson out during training camp and preseason and after Rob Johnson started in place of Brad Johnson against Carolina due to Brad Johnson's injury (broken rib), it became crystal clear that Rob Johnson was not a very good quarterback and that Brad Johnson was.

Sure, Brad Johnson isn't mobile, which is why so many people thought Rob Johnson would take the starting job from him. After all, one the reasons why Jon Gruden's offenses in Oakland were so potent was because of QB Rich Gannon, who is known for making plays with his legs and his arm.

"Oh, it's different," Gruden said of his offense with Brad Johnson running it vs. Gannon. "The move the pocket offense is obviously not as dramatic here. Naked bootlegs and things like that have not been as big a part of our scheme yet. Brad has his own speed coach here, Mike Morris, they're in there running right now. You never know, he might loosen up and really get back to running the ball. Michael Vick and all you guys better watch out."

Time is what Gruden said has allowed Brad Johnson to become a serious threat to opposing defenses in Tampa Bay's offense. Gruden inherited Brad Johnson, so it took time for both he and Johnson to get to know each other on the football field.

"You can say that mini camps and training camps help you learn that process, but you never really get to know a quarterback until the games really start," Gruden said. "You know, not only your quarterback but your personnel. What comes easy to you, there may be some things that are more difficult that you have to table for awhile, but as we've gotten to know each other as an offensive team it's certainly helped us cater to some of the things that Brad is more comfortable doing. As you can see, there are not a lot of things in the pocket that are hard for him to do. He's got a great touch and a great feel for pressure. He'll stand in there and take a lick, and he's got dead-on accuracy. He's a great passer."

Brad Johnson has proven to be the right signal quarterback for Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. Time has allowed Brad Johnson and Tampa Bay's offense to absorb and execute Gruden's offense, which is certainly evidenced by Johnson's statistics over the last five games. Johnson has tossed 15 touchdowns and just one interception over the last five contests.

" That's a heck of an accomplishment for anybody playing that position at any level," Gruden said of Johnson's 15 touchdowns and one interception over the last five games. "We want more of that, that's for sure. He's been outstanding, especially the last five games of this season. It's exciting when your quarterback is playing at that level this late in the season when games really, really become critical."

And it's no coincidence that Johnson's five-game hot streak has come at the same time Tampa Bay's offensive line has improved its play in pass protection.

"Well, we're blocking better, I think we're getting better, particularly in pass protection," said Gruden. "(Offensive line coach/offensive coordinator) Bill Muir does a good job with the schemes.

"But it has to do with improving, it has to do with scheming. Brad has a real good feel for when to throw the ball away, when to abort it, and when he can hold it. I think it's a combination of those three things."

Everyone wants to attribute Tampa Bay's success this season to its No. 1 ranked defense, which is certainly fathomable, but the Buccaneers, who are currently the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and in first place in the NFC South Division, might not even be in playoff contention at this point in the season without the outstanding play of Brad Johnson.

After Johnson was literally treated like a human piñata by the Saints' defense in Week 1, it would have been real easy for the Bucs' starting quarterback and the offense to implode from that point forward. But Gruden said Johnson's calm demeanor helped the offense be patient, which is why they're having success now.

"Yeah, I know, that's what makes me crazy sometimes," Gruden said of Johnson's cool demeanor. "‘Do you like this Brad?' ‘Yeah.' He's a very steady, low-key, humble, zoomed in guy who has no peaks and valleys in terms of his emotions. I will say this, when the game starts his eyes are big, and he's a great competitor. He is an iceman in terms of his everyday consistency, in terms of his personality and his emotions. He's got great control of himself."

When the Bucs inked Brad Johnson to a five-year deal during the 2001 offseason, fans thought the Pewter Pirates had added the final piece to its team that would finally get Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl. Although that didn't come to fruition last season, Johnson may still live up to those expectations.

Despite his success this season, some still believe Johnson's tenure in Tampa Bay will be short-lived because of his $5.8 million cap value in 2003 and because some still question whether or not he fits the mold of Gruden's ideal quarterback. But Tampa Bay's head coach certainly sounds like he is excited about Johnson's future as a Buc.

"I'm really excited about a future with Brad Johnson," said Gruden. "I think he's excited about where he can go as quarterback of this football team."

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