In the off-season, the Redskins have made a lot of moves to provide Steve Spurrier with the weapons he needs to make the Fun 'N Gun work in the NFL. What the Fun 'N Gun really needs, is a quality starting QB.
The' Skins think they have that man in second year QB Pat Ramsey. But it's a lot to ask a second year QB to shoulder the load in a pass-focused offense in which most of the pressure (no matter what the coaches say about this being a team effort) lands squarely on the QB.
So having a quality second string QB was one of this off-seasons top priorities.
Step forward Rob Johnson.
Signed as a free agent after spending last year backing up Brad Johnson at Tampa - and picking up a Super Bowl ring in the process - Johnson is the Redskins security blanket in case Ramsey falters or gets hurt.
Rob Johnson hales from Newport Beach (CA) and played High School football at El Toro (CA) where he was coached by his father Bob Johnson. Rob played WR (NFL QB Steve Stenstrom was his QB) as a junior and QB as a senior when he won Back of the Year and All Orange County honours. He also won the Orange County Overall Athlete of the Year and Football Athlete of the Year Awards.
Steve Mariucci, head coach at USC, recruited him out of high school at the time. Johnson became the first true freshman to start for USC since WWII when he opened up against Arizona in 1991 and he would go on to set school records for completions (676), yards (8,472), completion percentage (64.6%) and touchdowns (58) breaking all of Rodney Peete's old records.
Like many modern day student athletes Rob Johnson excelled at other sports, namely baseball (he was actually drafted in the 16th round by the Twins).
In 1995, Jacksonville drafted him with the first pick of the fourth round. He was the seventh QB taken that year, behind names like Steve McNair, Kerry Collins and Kordell Stewart.
He spent three seasons in Jacksonville, but rode the bench behind Mark Brunell who had already solidified his hold on the Jags starting QB spot. Johnson was expendable, but he showed enough in his limited playing time to convince the Buffalo Bills that he was the answer to replacing Jim Kelly. The Bills sent first and fourth round picks in exchange for Johnson in 1998. A price that in hindsight looks steep.
Johnson started six games his first year with Buffalo splitting time with Doug Flutie - a recurring theme for the next few years. Injuries played a part in an in an out season in which he flashed promise with the Bills making the Wild Card stage of the playoffs.
During the next three seasons Johnson started over 20 games (a career high 11 in 2000) mainly splitting with Flutie. In his playing time Johnson displayed good arm strength and mobility and poise under fire behind a mediocre offensive line. He also displayed an inability to stay healthy with a worrying tendency to pick up concussions.
At the end of the 2001 season (in which he missed the last 7 games with a broken collarbone), the Bills acquired Drew Bledsoe in a trade with New England making Johnson again… expendable.
He signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay to back up Brad Johnson. Rob would see some injury generated playing time, and some mop action, but he was never impressive enough to threaten Brad's starting position. Rob gained the invaluable experience of going to and winning a Super Bowl, but didn't have much to do with it. And so when the season was over he was again deemed… expendable.
Enter… the Washington Redskins.
Johnson is an intriguing choice for backup QB for the 'Skins. He has good size (6'4'' 215), good arm strength, very good accuracy and excellent mobility - he will be the most mobile QB the Skins have fielded for quite some time, perhaps since Joe Thiesmann.
The knock on him so far in his career has been his inability to stay healthy for any period. His propensity to pick up injuries is in part explained by his fairly slow release when throwing. When he decides to let the ball go, he takes a long wind up - which gives defenders a chance to close on him in the pocket. He has a tendency to take too many sacks. His ability and willingness to run with the ball also leave him open to taking shots from defenders.
Last season in Tampa when he did play he looked rusty and lacking in confidence and presence in the pocket. Too often he was indecisive, and took sacks when he had receivers open that he just did not see.
If Steve Spurrier can rebuild his confidence and work on his mechanics, Johnson could potentially turn into one of the better back up QBs in the league. He has shown that he has what it takes to be a successful NFL QB.
If the Rob Johnson who played under centre in Tampa shows up though, rest assured that he will find himself in that position that he has become so accustomed to… expendable.