Even when you're a marquee NFL free-agent quarterback, you've got
chores. So when new Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson was
hosting some buddies from his alma mater, Florida State, at his
house in early July and it began to rain, he hurried to move the
furniture on his pool deck under cover. That's when he slipped
and opened a deep gash on his left knee. As the blood gushed, his
season to come suddenly seemed in doubt. "My wife, Nikki, is a
physical therapist, and she got nervous," Brad said after a
training camp practice in August. "So that was a bit of a shock."
To the relief of Tampa Bay fans and the Johnsons, the laceration
turned out to be merely a flesh wound. "I feel very lucky," he
said, rubbing at the 15 stitches above his kneecap. "It could've
been a lot worse."
On a team as prodigiously talented as the Buccaneers, it seems
almost odd that the unassuming and well-traveled Johnson could
make or break the franchise's hopes this year. Such is the fate
of a perennial Super Bowl contender that can no longer
afford--given spiraling salaries, shaky team chemistry and the
coach's increasingly tenuous hold on his job--an early playoff
exit. After the splashy arrival of wideout Keyshawn Johnson last
year, Tampa Bay seemed a lock to be playing in late January.
Instead, an early four-game losing streak buried the Bucs,
teammates sniped at one another as the pressure mounted, and
Tampa Bay was thumped in the first round of the playoffs by the
Despite setting team records for points (388) and touchdowns
(43), the offense often sputtered, undone by questionable
play-calling and the inaccuracy of quarterback Shaun King. If
the offense is finally to lighten the load of a defense that
wore down last season, Brad Johnson must be the difference
maker. After last season it was assumed that Johnson was headed
to the Ravens for a reunion with Baltimore coach Brian Billick,
Johnson's old offensive coordinator with the Vikings. When Tampa
Bay made a more attractive offer, however, Johnson instead went
Making the move easier was his enthusiasm for the schemes of
Clyde Christensen, the Buccaneers' new offensive coordinator.
Christensen, the quarterbacks coach a year ago, has vowed to
make greater use of Keyshawn Johnson this season, especially in
the red zone. Keyshawn caught only eight touchdown passes last
year, and seven of them came in just five games. Christensen has
a much better rapport with him than former coordinator Les
Steckel did; for evidence, witness the cross-country trek
Christensen made to Keyshawn's Los Angeles house in February to
personally deliver his plans. "He came to me and told me I'd be
a more important part of the offense this year," says Keyshawn.
"It's no secret I wasn't used properly last year. I had 71
catches, but they weren't the right catches. Brad's incredibly
accurate, and he's a leader. It's like having an extra mind
helping you run your route."
Brad Johnson, a career 61.8% passer, figures to be an upgrade
over King, who was inconsistent as a starter and completed just
54.4% of his throws last season. Though Johnson's durability is
iffy--he has finished an NFL season just once in his nine-year
career--he excels at the medium passing game and finding backs in
the flat, two Tampa Bay offensive staples. Look for a big year
from tailback Warrick Dunn as the new featured back, while Mike
Alstott becomes more of the pass-catching H-back he was when he
had 65 receptions as a rookie.
If coach Tony Dungy allows Christensen to make full use of his
offensive weapons, no one will be happier than members of Tampa
Bay's vaunted defense. The unit tired noticeably at the end of
last season, particularly against the run. Though the addition of
free-agent end Simeon Rice will help the pass rush, tackles
Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland will be counted on to plug the
middle. "Coach Dungy has made it clear that Super Bowl teams are
consistently in the top three against the run," says free safety
John Lynch. "We've committed ourselves to stopping the run. It's
our top priority."
Along, it seems, with winning the Super Bowl. A full month before
the season was to begin, Sapp gave a nationally televised
interview in which he said that either the Buccaneers win it all
this year or else. "You have nine, 10 Pro Bowlers and you don't
win a championship? C'mon, something's wrong. If we don't win,
they're going to dismantle this team."
It's quite something when your superstar intimates in August that
no one's job is safe. More than anything, it's as if the Bucs,
dominant though they may be, are too aware that any slip from
Super Bowl contention will be a bloody one indeed.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO The Bucs hope the addition of quarterback Johnson will make their offense and their defense better.
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER RICE
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Buccaneers
"The Bucs look darn good on paper, but they've looked that way for
the past few years, too, and haven't done much.... Team chemistry
was a huge problem for them last year, and the addition of Simeon
Rice won't help. But he should give offenses someone to watch on
the outside pass rush.... Brad Johnson must stay healthy, which
may be difficult given how many injuries he's had in his career.
Also, I have questions about his arm strength.... Keyshawn
Johnson should have a big year, but he's no Randy Moss, as much
as he thinks he is. He's terrific over the middle and gets great
position on cornerbacks, but he can't beat you deep.... Warrick
Dunn is ready to be their top back. He's stronger than people
think and has incredible balance. He's tough to bring down in the
open field and can always break the long one.... Their defense
will be good again. Warren Sapp will be better at his new weight
[down 27 pounds], and Anthony McFarland is improving, but they
must play better against the run.... John Lynch is still at the
top of his game, but I wonder if he isn't too reckless at this
stage of his career.... Dwight Smith could be a good young corner
for them in nickel situations.... I think they'll win the
division, but they have to prove they can play together if the
losses come. If they think too much about expectations or about
Tony Dungy's job security, things could go bad in a hurry."
Sept. 9 at Dallas
23 Open date
30 at Minnesota
Oct. 7 GREEN BAY
14 at Tennessee
Nov. 4 at Green Bay
11 at Detroit
26 at St. Louis (Mon.)
Dec. 2 at Cincinnati
16 at Chicago
23 NEW ORLEANS
29 BALTIMORE (Sat.)
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 2
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .555
Games against playoff teams: 7
PROJECTED LINEUP with 2000 statistics
COACH: Tony Dungy; sixth season with Tampa Bay (45-35 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 10-6 (second in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 9/26/21; defense 9/13/9
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Brad Johnson[N] 22 355 att. 228 comp. 62.5% 2,505 yds.
11 TDs 15 int. 75.7 rtg.
RB Warrick Dunn 33 248 att. 1,133 yds. 4.6 avg. 44 rec.
422 yds. 9.6 avg. 8 TDs
RB Aaron Stecker 371 12 att. 31 yds. 2.6 avg. 1 rec.
15 yds. 15.0 avg. 0 TDs
FB Mike Alstott 79 131 att. 465 yds. 3.5 avg. 13 rec.
93 yds. 7.2 avg. 5 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Keyshawn Johnson 30 71 rec. 874 yds. 8 TDs
WR Jacquez Green 163 51 rec. 773 yds. 1 TD
WR Reidel Anthony 250 15 rec. 232 yds. 4 TDs
TE Dave Moore 260 29 rec. 288 yds. 3 TDs
K Martin Gramatica 145 42/42 XPs 28/34 FGs 126 pts.
PR Karl Williams 277 31 ret. 9.2 avg. 1 TD
KR Karl Williams 277 19 ret. 23.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Kenyatta Walker(R)[N]6'5" 315 lbs. 11 games 10 starts
LG Randall McDaniel 6'3" 287 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Jeff Christy 6'2" 285 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Cosey Coleman 6'4" 322 lbs. 8 games 0 starts
RT Jerry Wunsch 6'6" 339 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Marcus Jones 37 tackles 13 sacks
DT Warren Sapp 52 tackles 16 1/2 sacks
NT Anthony McFarland 50 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
RE Simeon Rice[N] 34 tackles 7 1/2 sacks
OLB Shelton Quarles 51 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Jamie Duncan 66 tackles 4 int.
OLB Derrick Brooks 140 tackles 1 sack
CB Donnie Abraham 56 tackles 7 int.
SS John Lynch 85 tackles 3 int.
FS Dexter Jackson 34 tackles 0 int.
CB Ronde Barber 87 tackles 2 int.
P Mark Royals 85 punts 41.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"Keyshawn should have a big year, but he's no Randy Moss. He
can't beat you deep."