WR Keyshawn Johnson has developed a comfort zone with QB Brad Johnson
Keyshawn Johnson has accounted for 41 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 116 receptions so far this season. Through five games, Johnson had 548 receiving yards, roughly 47% of the team's total of 1,173 in that category.
Clearly, quarterback Brad Johnson has found his go-to guy. Johnson leads the NFC in both above categories, and has been more steady than streaky, catching at least seven passes in each game.
However, the passer doesn't want you to get the mistaken impression that he's locked in on one receiver.
"Some plays are obviously designed for Keyshawn, some plays are dictated by coverage, whether he gets the ball or not," said Brad Johnson. "Also, he's just a big, physical target. He's able to position himself well and catch the ball. Not many times does he drop the ball. He does a great job of breaking up balls that could be intercepted, so there's a trust factor from that point of view."
Really, the strong connection between these two was built not in the last five games but in the months between Brad Johnson's signing in March and the season opener in September. First, new Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen did extensive research into how best to utilize the Bucs' tall, athletic, high-profile receiver, after the Bucs failed to use him to the maximum in 2000. Consider that research successful; Johnson already has more than half of the 71 catches he pulled in last fall.
And, second, the two Johnsons have had dozens of practices to get familiar with each other. While various other Buc skill players have missed long periods of time with injuries – a list that includes backs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott and receivers Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony – Keyshawn Johnson has stayed relatively healthy.
"The offense does kind of feature him," Brad Johnson admitted. "I felt very comfortable with Keyshawn from day one, when I got here back in March."
Keyshawn Johnson has actually sustained several injuries this season as the price for his extensive work and his willingness to take the big hit over the middle, but he has managed to play through them. This week, he has progressed rapidly from a hip injury that earlier threatened to sideline him for the Minnesota game.
It now is assumed that Johnson will suit up for the game.
The only missing hole in Johnson's stats to this point is touchdown receptions, and that is somewhat a function of the offense's periodic struggles. While a healthier running game might rob Johnson of a few reception opportunities, it would also provide more scoring opportunities. To that end, the team that has lived by the Johnson-to-Johnson connection over the past two weeks is adamant about reviving the ground attack.
"Our running game has to be a focal point," said Brad Johnson. "We have to make it a little bit easier on ourselves. Get to second-and-medium, get to third-and-short, and be able to break a long run, very similar to what Mike did in the Green Bay game. We have to be able to make those plays in the running game. It's something that we have to force-feed ourselves, as far as sticking with it."
Johnson's 41 receptions are impressive, but do little to distract the team from it's losing record, a position the Bucs did not expect to find themselves in. Tampa Bay probably needs Johnson's big plays to win consistently, but at this point the team would take a win however it occurs.
"You have 16 times to check your pride, and right now we're 2-3," said Brad Johnson. "That's where our pride is. I think the biggest thing is how hard we work this week, how well we prepare and how well we play this week. That's the answer. You can't explain it. The biggest deal is how we play this Sunday."