Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A Clearer Picture

QB Josh Johnson's role is more well-defined this offseason than at any point in his young career, and the third-year passer is taking advantage of the increased reps as the team's insurance policy behind another promising young quarterback


Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson's role with his only NFL team has already varied wildly in his young career, bouncing up and down like a well-struck onside kick.

Johnson was labeled a "project" by many analysts when he entered the league as the Bucs' fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He spent the entire season on the sideline, inactive for all 16 games. Johnson then began 2009 as the backup behind Byron Leftwich, was thrust into the starting lineup for four games midway through the year, and finally gave way to heir apparent Josh Freeman for the remainder of the season.

And while things can easily change in an instant, the 2010 offseason has afforded Johnson perhaps his most well-defined role with the team yet - backup to Freeman - and the consistent practice reps that come along with it.

This has given Johnson a strong sense of comfort and confidence as the Bucs draw nearer to training camp and the start of the regular season.

"I'm very comfortable, because right now I've got an opportunity to go out every day and work on becoming a better quarterback," Johnson said. "I have an opportunity, being a backup now, to get reps in practice every day, so you get to work on different things. You get put in different situations out there that can prepare you for the game. That's all I'm trying to do now, and just seeing what I can do within our offense and what I can do to be more successful and allow us to be more successful as an offense as a whole."

While the starter Freeman still gets the lion's share of the reps, Johnson has focused on taking advantage of his opportunities on the practice field.

"It's continuing strides every day, but every day I feel like I get better out here, and every day I feel like I go home with something to work on, and I feel like there's something I can bring back to the practice field the next day to show the coaches what I'm improving upon," Johnson said. "That's all I'm trying to do is just improve every day, so when the games come and I get an opportunity, we can be successful as an offense."

And while he's already lived the life of a starting quarterback, a backup, and a third-stringer in his short NFL career - surely a test of mental toughness for any young passer - Johnson says the thing he's continued to work hardest on in 2010 is keeping a level head and being prepared for anything.

"I'm just trying to take control of every snap that I get, every time," Johnson said. "They say to take one play at a time, and that's what I want to do. In the position that I'm in right now, I can come in a game in the second quarter or the fourth quarter, but I've just got to be able to seize and take advantage of the opportunity when I'm given it, and that's just staying ready.

"I can put myself in those situations right now in practice, and be in control of the offense right now," Johnson continued. "I have a good feel of what's going on, and I have a good feel of what we want to do. The biggest thing for me is I want to take the next step in my game and take control of the offense as a whole. That's what I'm trying to do this offseason."

Perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects of the offseason practice snaps both Freeman and Johnson have received is that they have come against Head Coach Raheem Morris' fast, young and talented defensive unit that has thrown a variety of different looks the quarterbacks' way.

"It's very beneficial to go out and get reps in the offseason, because you get so many different opportunities and you get so many different situations and go against so many different looks that you can only get better," Johnson said. "Going against what Raheem is doing over there, it's a great look for us as quarterbacks because he's doing a lot of different things. We kind of see a lot of different things that are taking place among the NFL, so it's great work for us just to be able to prepare for what might come up during the season."

And as for his backfield partner Freeman, Johnson says the two have helped each other out tremendously. Many around the league might question the Bucs strategy of approaching the season with two quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart with a grand total of 13 starts between them, but Johnson believes in the young duo.

"[Freeman and I] put the time in, first off," Johnson said. "We both work extremely hard at what we want to do, and we want to be good at what we do. We're very coachable - we both take coaching and we also study other quarterbacks. We study other guys around the league that are successful, and we're not afraid of seeing what they're doing to become better quarterbacks.

"We both got experience last year. Between us we got 13 starts last year and that was a great experience for us, and we've now been in this system going on two years. I feel like the way we work and our knowledge of football, I feel like we'll be fine. There will be growing pains along the road, but we are the type of guys that'll push through that."

Johnson's role on the roster might be more solid than ever before, but he knows one play is all it takes to throw even the best-laid plans into disarray. Rather than shudder at this type of pressure, however, Johnson is relishing it. Besides, when you've bounced around the depth chart as much as he has in such a short time, what else can you do?

"Being one play away, there's no pressure there," Johnson said. "It's just about being ready, and that's the way I look at it. The pressure is part of playing the position and once you're on the field, it makes it all fun. That's what makes playing football so fun, especially playing quarterback, the pressure that you have on your shoulders, because you know if you put in the time and the work and all you're supposed to do, you can be successful.

"When you can be out there with 10 other guys and be successful, that puts a smile on your face as a quarterback."

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