Tampa Bay's second-year quarterback, Shaun King, has impressed the team's coaching staff with his sharp work this August
by Vic Carucci, NFL Insider for NFL.com
His offensive coordinator was quick with praise. So was his best receiver.
The only person not showering Shaun King with compliments Sunday was Shaun King.
The young Tampa Bay quarterback took a fairly objective look at his performance after the Buccaneers' 31-21 victory over the New England Patriots.
"I would like to have been a little sharper in the passing game," King said. "I mean, we had some throwaways. We had some balls that got tipped."
And even if those tips did result in a 58-yard completion and a 55-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jacquez Green, King knew they were the types of plays that should not be allowed to inflate his head. Nor should his final numbers after playing a half and one series of the third quarter Sunday: nine completions in 23 attempts for 191 yards and the score to Green, who caught the ball after it bounced off the hands of tight end Dave Moore.
Talking with King, you come away with a clear sense that he knows he is light years from being an accomplished NFL quarterback. He realizes - despite his remarkable relief work in the second half of last season and despite helping guide the Buccaneers to the NFC Championship Game and nearly a trip to the Super Bowl - he is still closer to the rookie he was in 1999 than the second-year veteran's status he carries into this season.
Above all, King seems to know that he remains the largest question mark on what otherwise looks like a serious Super Bowl contender.
"I'm fine," King said when asked to assess his progress. "There's still a little thinking going on. But I think that had a lot to do with New England. They did a great job mixing up their coverages. We have to be sharper anyway."
Others in the Buccaneers' dressing room were more generous with kind words directed toward King.
"Shaun's doing well," new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Les Steckel said. "I'm pleased with Shaun King. I think he's the man for the job. I can't tell you enough about his leadership, his personality, his smarts. I'm really impressed with how smart a quarterback he is for only being in the league a short time."
"Fifty-five percent (conversion) of third downs in the first half," Steckel added. "I'll take that any time."
So will new Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who caught four passes from King for 59 yards, all in the second quarter and three on the same drive.
"I think he can do a terrific job," Johnson said. "One of my jobs is to help him do that. I think he has a good arm. He has good arm strength. He knows where to put the ball at times, and he's not afraid. So any time you have that combination, you should be pretty alright."
That isn't to say the Bucs are skipping through the preseason all perky about their chances of living up to the lofty expectations that have been established for them this season - and that they have established for themselves. It isn't to say they believe they have absolutely no concerns about being led by an inexperienced quarterback.
Not only is King still learning the ropes as a first-time full-time starter in the NFL, he is still learning the new scheme that was installed after Steckel replaced Mike Shula (now an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins) as offensive coordinator.
"There will be some growing pains," Steckel said. "It's so difficult for a young quarterback to come in this league and, all of a sudden, execute a brand-new offense.
"But I know, from the classroom and carrying it over to the field, that he's comfortable with what we're doing. That gives me a good feeling."
The good news for the Buccaneers is that it isn't good enough for King.