Bucs QB King Could Start Against The Steelers

December 18 – Tampa Bay starting quarterback Brad Johnson has been downgraded from probable to questionable and he was held out of Wednesday's practice due to a lower back contusion he suffered against Detroit last Sunday. Buccaneers backup QB Shaun King took most of the reps during Wednesday's workout and he could start against Pittsburgh on Monday night.

Tampa Bay received some bad news Wednesday when the team downgraded starting quarterback Brad Johnson from probable to questionable on its official injury report, which is listed below.

Johnson, who has thrown 15 touchdowns and just one interception over the last six games, suffered a lower back contusion and a right thumb bruise against Detroit last Sunday, but the back injury is the one that caused him to miss Wednesday's practice.

Bucs backup QB Shaun King, who was promoted to the No. 2 quarterback spot over QB Rob Johnson about one month ago, took the majority of the reps during Wednesday's workout.

"Brad Johnson did not practice today," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "Shaun King took all the reps, just about. (Quarterback) Rob Johnson took a few, also. (Linebacker) Nate Webster did not practice. We hope to get him on the field tomorrow.

" I think the thumb is not an issue. I believe it's the lower back area. He's unable to move comfortably right now, and for that reason it's hard to play quarterback."

While he didn't practice Wednesday, the team said it was still hopeful that Johnson would be able to start against Pittsburgh.

"Well, I'm an optimistic guy," Gruden said. "In the next couple of days, hopefully this injury subsides a little bit and he'll be able to get his range of motion back and come out and practice. But I'm optimistic."

The fact that Tampa Bay will play a Monday night game instead of a typical Sunday afternoon game bodes well for Johnson in terms of recovering from the lower back injury in time for the team's next regular season contest.

"I think so," Gruden said when asked whether or not Johnson would benefit from the extra day's rest. "I think the extra day will help, and the extra night. We don't play until 9 o'clock Monday, so we'll take it to the 12th hour. Hopefully, his status improves. If it doesn't, Shaun King was very sharp today and he'd be the starter."

Gruden was pleased with how well King performed in practice on Wednesday and Tampa Bay's head coach said he wouldn't hesitate to start him if Johnson couldn't go by Monday night.

"He did everything well," Gruden said of King. "He handled the offense well. He showed good aptitude in terms of where to go with the ball and he's got a very good skill level. The guy can move, he's an athlete back there. He's got some charisma, he's got some juice that I thought our team fed off of today. He was very impressive.

"I like Shaun. I've said that from the very beginning. Again, Brad Johnson's our starting quarterback and a big reason that we are where we are. He's our leader, he's a team captain, a unanimous pick there. But when a guy's hurt, somebody has to step up. We went with Rob Johnson earlier, and right now Shaun King's got the keys to the offense and we expect him to play well."

King, who has posted a 14-7 record as a starter since entering the league as Tampa Bay's 1999 second-round draft pick out of Tulane, is in the final year of his rookie contract and will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2002 season. King said he'd be ready if the team needed him against Pittsburgh.

"I think about it all the time," King said of possibly starting at quarterback. "That's what motivates me each week to come out and prepare myself even though I wasn't the starter. You just have to always be ready. A lot of the guys in the locker room are depending on whoever's out there playing. We're 11-3, we have a chance to clinch the South this Monday night and it's a big game that we need to win.

"It's just one of those things. You have to be prepared to do it. If Brad's able to play, he's going to play, but if I have to play I'll be ready."

There's a possibility that Johnson may miss another day or two of practice, but that won't necessarily keep him from starting against the Steelers on Monday night. Tampa Bay will not likely make a decision on who its starting quarterback will be against Pittsburgh until later in the week or it could possibly be a game-time decision.

" If Brad can show that he can make all the throws without any physical limitations on Friday or Saturday, he'll be the starting quarterback," Gruden said. "We're confident and optimistic that he'll be ready to go, but if he can't go, we're going to use this time wisely to get Shaun King prepared to play."

PewterReport.com has listed the Bucs-Steelers injury report below.

BUCS-STEELERS INJURY REPORT:

INJURY KEY
Probable (Player has a 75 percent chance of playing)
Questionable (Player has a 50 percent chance of playing)
Doubtful (Player has a 25 percent chance of playing)
Out (Player will not play)

TAMPA BAY

QB Brad Johnson (right lower back contusion) – Questionable
LB Nate Webster (right knee sprain) – Questionable
S John Lynch (neck strain) – Probable
DE Ellis Wyms (right ankle sprain) - Probable


PITTSBURGH

P Josh Miller (shoulder) – Questionable
RB Amos Zereoue (thumb) – Questionable
LB Kendrell Bell (abdomen) – Probable
RB Jerome Bettis (knee) – Probable
LB James Farrior (shoulder) – Probable
WR Hines Ward (hamstring) - Probable


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