Brad Johnson, who suffered a severe lower back bruise against Detroit on Dec. 15, saw limited action again during Thursday's practice and both he and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden have basically ruled out Tampa Bay's starting quarterback for Sunday night's game against Chicago.
"Brad Johnson was very limited today," Gruden said Thursday. "He practiced only with the service squad and his mobility is improving slightly. But I'm not to the point where he'll become a starter on Sunday. It looks as if Rob will be the starter unless something dramatically changes. He (Brad) is improving, however, which is encouraging."
Tampa Bay's trainers have been giving Brad Johnson treatment over the last 10 days and while acupuncture, ice and heat massages have helped him progress, the lower back bruise hasn't allowed Johnson to do much more than ride a bike and stairmaster in terms of physical activity.
"I haven't really pulled the trigger yet," Johnson said Thursday. "I've done some light jogging and light throwing, but I haven't pulled the trigger and I don't have to right now. That's the comfort level we have right now from my standpoint and the team's standpoint.
"It's gotten better. Last week, I tried to actually drop back and pull the trigger and throw the 20-yard comeback and those types of things and it was just too much for me. I've improved to the standpoint now that I don't want to regress. I don't want to take a chance right now, but I have improved drastically and that is the good thing about it. I am able to do light tossing, conditioning on the bike, Stairmaster and those types of things. As a medical staff, the doctors and myself and Jon Gruden, we just don't think it's worth the chance of regressing at this point."
Brad Johnson, who has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 2,799 yards and tossed 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season, has thrown the ball lightly during this week's practices, but he still has some limitations in terms of his mobility, which has made it difficult for him to throw the ball with enough power and accuracy. While Johnson will continue to receive treatment from trainers, he said time would ultimately be what heals his back.
"I feel good," Johnson said. "I am about as fresh as I have ever been and I'm healthy. There are just certain things I am not able to do right now. If I am not able to complete those passes on the football field, then I won't be able to play. Right now, it's just a matter of time and that is the biggest issue right now."
While team has prepared for life without Brad Johnson for Sunday night's game in Champaign, Illinois, the Bucs might be without their starting quarterback for one or more playoff games.
If Green Bay defeats the New York Jets or Tampa Bay loses to Chicago on Sunday, the Bucs will host a first-round playoff game. But if the Jets defeat the Packers and the Bucs down the Bears on Sunday night, Tampa Bay would receive a first-round bye in the playoffs, which would give Johnson's back bruise another week to subside.
"It would be big for a lot of us," Johnson said of the possibility or receiving a bye week in the playoffs. "Regardless, you have got to play through it. If I was not healthy enough to play for the playoffs, then I would not play. It's tough and I have always talked about how precious every snap is in practice and how precious every game is. They don't come around very often and I hate missing practice, let alone games. We'll just have to deal with it the best we can. If I'm not able to go, then I will not go. I've just got to make that judgment when I have to."
While Tampa Bay officials, including Gruden, had apparently put an end to rumors that suggested the Bucs' starting quarterback had suffered a cracked vertebrae, Brad Johnson's answer when asked about those same rumors Thursday certainly didn't help put that talk to rest.
"Number one is it doesn't matter," Brad Johnson said when asked whether or not there was any truth to the rumors about him having a cracked vertebrae. "The thing that matters is if I'm healthy enough to play. So, I can't sit here and tell you it is or it isn't (a cracked vertebrae). I wouldn't tell you. The biggest (question) is am I healthy enough to play? Actually, the doctors really haven't told me, it's been me telling them whether I can go or not. So, I guess you'd have to talk to the doctors and trainers. We're just trying to get the swelling down. So, I feel good about it. That's basically where it's at. It doesn't matter what the injury is, what matters is if I'm healthy enough to go."
No one knows for sure when he will be able to play in a game again, but Brad Johnson vowed Thursday to return to the starting lineup this season.
"I will be back," Johnson said. "At some point I will be back, there is no doubt about that. It just wasn't last Monday night and it will probably not be this Sunday night against Chicago. Hopefully we will get a bye and if not, I'll be rolling and going."
Unless Brad Johnson makes significant improvement, backup quarterback Rob Johnson will start against Chicago. It would be his second start of the season.
Rob Johnson started in place of Brad Johnson against Carolina on Oct. 27 after Brad Johnson was sidelined with a stomach virus and a broken rib. Rob Johnson has also seen relief duty in Tampa Bay's games against Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Green Bay and Pittsburgh.
Rob Johnson has completed 41-of-63 passes (65 percent) of his passes for 402 yards and he's thrown one touchdown and one interception. But Rob Johnson has also been sacked 14 times in the five contests he's appeared in for the Bucs, which averages out to be one sack every five times he drops back to pass. That sack total is just seven less than the amount Brad Johnson has taken in 13 starts.
Rob Johnson, who had been demoted to the No. 3 quarterback spot behind Brad Johnson and Shaun King about one month ago, said the extra reps in practice should help him prepare for Sunday night's game.
"I haven't gotten any reps in practice since the Carolina game that I started," Rob Johnson said Thursday. "Basically, I haven't called an offensive play, besides the Green Bay game, for a couple months. Having this week of practice will really help. For me, I've started a lot of games in this league so it's not that big of a change. I actually like it (starting) a lot better than backing up."
While Rob Johnson wasn't happy about being demoted for four games, he said he stayed focused because he had a feeling he'd see action again before the season was over.
"It was tough for me," Rob Johnson said of being the team's third-string quarterback for a month. "Obviously, any player in that situation won't agree with it but you know Jon felt that it was best for the team. He's a very good coach and you have to go with that. Obviously, a player won't be happy with that, so I just tried to work and keep on top of my game because you never know what's going to happen."
In other injury news, Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp was held out of practice for the second straight day. Sapp is listed as questionable for Sunday night's game with a knee sprain, but Gruden sounded confident that the Bucs' Pro Bowl under tackle would find a way to play in the team's regular season finale.
"He does have some fluid in his knee," Gruden said of Sapp. "This is one tough guy and he proved that against Carolina earlier in the year. We'll see how he responds to treatment here in the next 48 hours. Certainly, we need Warren Sapp, that's for sure.
"Knowing Warren Sapp, he'll find a way to play."
Tampa Bay backup linebacker Jack Golden, who is tied for sixth on the team in special teams tackles with 12, has been excused by the team for the next couple of days due to a "personal matter".
PewterReport.com has listed the Bucs-Bears injury report below.
BUCS-BEARS INJURY REPORT:
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)
QB Brad Johnson (right lower back contusion) – Questionable
DT Warren Sapp (left knee sprain) - Questionable
LB Shelton Quarles (right ankle sprain) – Probable
C Jeff Christy (right knee sprain) - Probable
TE John Davis (back) – Out
LB Bryan Knight (knee) – Out
DT Christian Peter (calf) – Out
DB R.W. McQuarters (hip) – Questionable
S Damon Moore (leg) – Questionable
DE John Stamper (shoulder) – Questionable
DT Keith Traylor (leg) – Questionable
QB Chris Chandler (head) - Probable
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