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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Piece Talks

Though he resists the ‘final piece to the puzzle’ tag, new Buc Keyshawn Johnson thinks he’ll fit right in


At his introduction to Tampa Bay, Keyshawn Johnson had a pretty good idea of where he will fit in

In the modern NFL, teams that stand pat tend to get passed by.

After just missing out on a berth in Super Bowl XXXIV last January, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have reasonably been considered prime candidates for number XXXV even with an uneventful offseason. But with teams like Dallas, Detroit and particularly Washington using the spring to load up on prime talent, standing pat didn't seem like a good option for the Buccaneers.

And, despite a band of talent as broad as any in the league, it was generally thought that the Bucs could significantly upgrade at two positions: offensive line and wide receiver. The two months between the onset of free agency in February and the NFL draft in April would determine whether the General Manager Rich McKay and the Bucs could find instant help or would have to take the less immediate draft route.

So, did Tampa Bay succeed in its talent search? Did Thomas Jefferson succeed in finding a little extra real estate for the United States?

Jefferson's 'Louisiana Purchase' somehow included Wyoming and virtually doubled the size of America. McKay's offseason haul somehow added 15 Pro Bowls' worth of experience to the roster - guard Randall McDaniel, center Jeff Christy and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson – in the exact areas of concern.

By addressing their needs so directly and emphatically, the Bucs seemingly completed a puzzle that had just a few unfinished parts. Johnson, acquired on Wednesday in exchange for Tampa Bay's two first-round picks in Saturday's draft, is such a core NFL talent that he was instantly considered the final piece to that puzzle in the Bucs' efforts to rank among Super Bowl favorites.

Johnson, though, doesn't see it in exactly those terms.

"I don't know what they were missing," he said. "I think that they have definitely missed some points, or they would have been in the Super Bowl. Like I said, I can't say that I'm a hired gun, coming in here like Dennis Rodman did with the Bulls when they were missing a rebounder and win championships. All I can say is that I'm going to do my part. I think they're going to allow me to do that and I'm going to help them reach all of our goals, and that is to get to the Super Bowl."

That being said, it isn't difficult for Johnson to see where he fits in the puzzle. "Looking at them and saying that they finished in the top four teams in the NFL last season, you have to probably put them right back in that position," he said. "Acquiring a player that will allow them to do certain things offensively, then you have to continue to keep them in the top four. Put it this way, they have a pretty good chance of making some noise."

The 'certain things' that Johnson refers to includes not only the Bucs' offensive weaknesses, but also their strengths. Quite clearly, a receiver that has averaged 76 receptions for 1,027 yards and eight touchdowns per season during his NFL career should jumpstart a passing attack that averaged just 155 yards per game in 1999. However, Johnson's presence should also re-energize a running attack that, with the combined talents of Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, has the potential to be among the league's best. Tampa Bay has ranked in the league's top half in rushing yards in each of the last three years, but saw its effectiveness somewhat diminished in '99 when its opponents continued to focus on the ground game. Head Coach Tony Dungy is sure to keep a large emphasis on his ground attack, but has always sought the big-play passing attack that would complement it.

The Buccaneers believe they have that now in Johnson. In fact, while the addition of Johnson represents only half as much new blood as the offensive line received, it is easy to see how the wide receiver position was upgraded just as significantly. While the team's passing game has yet to truly take off under Coach Dungy, several of his receivers have displayed talents that should mesh well with Johnson's.

Fellow Florida Gator products Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green are both speed merchants capable of stretching a defense, and each has taken a turn as the team's go-to receiver. Anthony found the end zone seven times in 1998, the most by any Buc receiver in the '90s, and Green emerged with his first 50-catch campaign as an NFL sophomore last year and caught the majority of the team's downfield passes. Low-profile but productive receiver Karl Williams has always been known for his good hands and clutch third-down catches, and TE Dave Moore is a legitimate red zone threat with similarly sticky hands. Johnson expects to jump right into the mix.

"I think that they will respect me and I will respect them, and we'll learn from each other," he said. "They have some qualities that I don't have and I have some qualities that they don't have. I think we'll feed off each other. I'm excited to get a guy or two guys in there that can really run down the field, something I haven't have in my entire career of playing professional football. I didn't have a speed burner. Now having these guys, I think we can complement each other very, very well. They're going to learn that I'm a tough (player) on the football field, and if anyone is lacking in their heart, then I think they will step up to the challenge."

If that, in turn, gets the Bucs' ground game rolling again, Johnson will be more than happy to ride the A-Train to victories. He has no remorse over coming to a run-happy team like Dungy's. "I did it all the time in New York and was very, very happy when we won," said Johnson. "When we didn't win, it wasn't because they weren't giving me the opportunities. We didn't win because something fell through. Maybe I missed a block, or maybe I held somebody or maybe another guy did that. I don't have a problem with that whatsoever. But in this day and age in football, we all know that you do have to throw the football. I think that the Tampa Bay Bucs organization knows that, and that's why they went out and gave up those two first-round picks to try to get somebody that they can rely on to deliver that for them."

That is probably a fair assessment. It would not be fair, however, to cast Johnson as a 'me-first' player.

"That's very much a misperception of who I am," he said. "I'm a win-now person and I want to win. That's the first thing I think about. That's who I am. I'm all about winning."

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