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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB move feels right for Bucs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 12:44 PM
TAMPA -

Michael Clayton has been through this before. In fact, he has been through it so many times before that the veteran receiver has lost count of the number of times it has happened.

The decision to pull Byron Leftwich and insert Josh Johnson marks the 15th time since Clayton arrived in 2004 the Bucs have gone through an in-season change of starting quarterbacks.

For some reason, though, this change feels a little different, not only to Clayton but also to many other players who have long roamed the halls of One Buc Place.

This, they say, doesn't have the feel of a coach going with a guy he doesn't really believe in or a guy who just happened to play a good game against this week's opponent two months earlier. This, the Bucs say, feels right.

"I don't feel like this was a move made out of desperation, and I don't feel like it was a move that abandons anything, because I've been here with Josh and I feel he's capable of doing anything," receiver Antonio Bryant said.

"I was watching some film from last year and I was looking at some highlights of the Cowboys game and I thought to myself, 'Josh Johnson reminds me a lot of Tony Romo.'

"What I mean is that, just like Romo, he always had quarterbacks ahead of him and he had to wait his turn. He had to sit there and master that system, and so he learned how to be a professional."

The comparisons to Romo, who threw for a career-high 353 yards in leading Dallas to a Week 1 win at Tampa Bay, don't stop there. After all, Romo and Johnson both spent their college years playing in relative obscurity at Division I-AA schools, Eastern Illinois and San Diego, respectively.

And while no one with the Bucs is ready to predict the Romo comparison will continue once Johnson makes his first pro start Sunday against the Redskins, there is clearly a growing sense of confidence about him.

"I think there's a lot of guys that saw a lot of potential in him last year," tight end John Gilmore said. "Right now, I think everybody's excited to get out there and see what we've got, what he's going to do on the field."

One thing Johnson won't do is stand in the pocket and take the beating Leftwich did. The Bucs' new starter plays the game with a high degree of athleticism, and has his teammates excited, too.

"He's got a lot of tools," said defensive tackle Ryan Sims, who has spent the better part of the past two weeks working against Johnson in practice. "The only thing he lacks is experience."

That lack of experience isn't noticeable once Johnson steps onto the field or into the huddle. He has quickly earned a reputation for being a studious quarterback, and also has his teammates feeling confident.

"He's really a smart guy," right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "I'm not sure you can be any smarter than he is when it comes to playing football. And he's got that kind of personality that people just gravitate to."

The Bucs gravitated to Johnson largely because they are off to an 0-3 start. The belief in the organization is this is the time to get a read on some of the young players.

The feeling in the locker room, though, is this season can be salvaged and Johnson's untapped talent gives the Bucs a chance to do that. Johnson doesn't see himself as the Bucs' key to success, however.

"I'm not the savior of this team," he said Wednesday. "My job is to help us get wins. We're a talented team and we have to put it all together. If we become one, we'll do that, and it won't just be on one guy's shoulders."

Savior or not, the responsibility for sparking the Bucs back to life is squarely on Johnson's shoulders. The consensus inside the locker room is he's the right man for the job.

"We've got to get something going," Clayton said. "It's time to build a little momentum, and this (change at quarterback) puts us in a better position right now to do that, so we should be fine."


Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.

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