Brad Johnson is a proven producer in the Bucs' offensive system
Jon Gruden has named his starting quarterback for next Sunday's game in Oakland. It's the same man who started the Bucs' last 18 games, and 51 of the last 54. It's a man in whom Gruden has an enormous amount of confidence, a man he refers to as 'The Bull.'
Brad Johnson will remain the team's starter despite being replaced for the last three quarters of Sunday's 10-6 loss to Seattle. Gruden said he made the move to Simms against Seattle on feel, looking to spark an attack that has not scored a touchdown in two games. As the Bucs continue in their efforts to get the offense on track, Gruden believes Johnson is the best man to get them there.
"All I can say about Brad Johnson is that he is a class act," said Gruden. "He has been around a long time. He understands why we made the change. I don't believe he'll agree with all of the reasons for us making the change, but I can only say he handled it with great class. I truly expect him to come back this week, have a hell of a week of practice and find a way to get this ship right."
Gruden wanted to spark his offense, but he wasn't necessarily looking to light a fire under Johnson. The 13th-year veteran has been through quarterback battles and difficult situations before, and is likely to handle this one as professionally as he has the rest.
"Brad is an even keel guy," said Gruden. "He has a steady approach to business. He's a great competitor. But we have to help him so he can play his game and that goes for play calling and that goes for everybody."
In his regular-season debut, Simms mixed rocket-armed completions with several youthful mistakes. Gruden estimated that the young passer would see seven or eight plays on film that he would like to have back. However, neither Simms' 65% passing nor his last-drive interception played significantly into the coach's decision to go back to Johnson against Oakland.
"I thought he showed great poise and he shows great promise as a future player for our organization," said Gruden. "To go out there against the Seattle Seahawks and hit 21 out of 32 passes in your first game is a great performance for a young kid. I thought he did show great confidence and delivered some sensational throws, but he made some mistakes, which I am sure he will address today.
"With Chris Simms, you do have a young left-handed quarterback that has put together back-to-back solid pre-seasons, that has a rifle for an arm now and has mobility and we are excited about the young fellow. We really are. So, we're eager to see where he can go with his future. At the same time we're very comfortable with Brad Johnson."
And for good reason. Johnson is the highest-rated passer in Buccaneer history, having completed 61.8% of his passes and tossed 61 touchdowns against 40 interceptions in his three-plus years at the helm. He was the starter in the Bucs' Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2002 season and he set team records for passing yards (3,811) and touchdown throws (26) last year. Though he is off to a slow start in 2004, with two interceptions and no touchdowns in 44 passes, Gruden attributes a good portion of that to the Bucs' ever-changing offensive cast.
"Brad Johnson is a heck of a football player and a team man," said Gruden. "He has been victimized by a lot of circumstances. The lineup has been a revolving door. It has been difficult on him. His style, the way in which he plays, he is a very system-oriented quarterback, a very disciplined football player. With all of the changes, I think it has inhibited him to some degree.
"The Bull's approach hasn't changed. I do agree that continuity hasn't been one of our strong suits here; it's been a real obstacle for us."
Simms will remain the number-two quarterback for Sunday's game in Oakland but Gruden is not contemplating another quick hook.
"The big thing is, we have to find a way to get something going; running, receiving, whatever it may be," he said. "A lot of times the quarterback gets too much credit, just like the head coach does, when you win, and sometimes he gets too much credit when you don't. We made a change yesterday in the game to try to ignite our football team. Maybe use a couple of different types of plays and feature a little different series of offense, but Brad Johnson is Brad Johnson. He is going to play like Brad Johnson. He is very efficient with the football and makes some plays along the way, which we think he can."
Gruden also does not expect the quarterback situation to affect the confidence of any of the other players in the locker room. Three years of strong play from Johnson and two very good preseasons from Simms have built up the team's trust in both players.
"I believe that the guys in the locker room are very confident in Brad Johnson," said the coach. "I think they're very confident in Chris Simms. I think that they witnessed what's happening with Chris on the practice field over the last year-and-a-half. I also believe that our football team truly understands we're going to do everything to give our team a chance to win. And yesterday we felt one of the things we needed to do was generate some sort of spark on this offensive football team and maybe Chris could do that."