by Steve Stegeman
May 4, 2002
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     I have been going about my off-season in usual fashion, following cuts and signings, analyzing and scrutinizing draft picks and trades, in short, doing the small things that I hope will make the difference when the regular season rolls around. Amidst all the studying, I find myself, in very typical fashion, getting caught up in the opinionated and completely speculative rhetoric of the “statisticless off-season, and the bandwagons this year, no different from any other, are full-steam ahead.

     I can tolerate writers bad-mouthing, albeit usually in a biased fashion, the likes of Fred Taylor or Terry Glenn; I can fathom the lack of confidence many have in Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jim Miller, Marcus Robinson or Germane Crowell. Heck, I am getting a kick out of the soap opera otherwise known as the New York "Football" Giants and what the writers cook up about the characters, Ike, Mike, Tiki, Ernie and the rest of the cast.

     But, dealing with the predictable, yet arbitrary skepticism and capricious trash talk about two of the NFL’s hardest-working and, to one degree or another, finest players is frustrating. The players are quarterback Brad Johnson and wide receiver Rod Smith, and on the "bandwagon train" ride writers from across the spectrum, from Fanball to CNN/SI and ESPN, including such credible guys as John Clayton. This, I am not getting!

     Since when does Brad Johnson suck? It was not but a year ago when this guy was the hottest quarterback on the market. Since when did he come to deserve jibes like “Brad is long in the neck but short on talent…” or to be, de facto, shoved down the Buccaneers' depth chart? Initially, when it was announced that Jon Gruden was traded to the Bucs, I was excited for Brad. It seemed as if everybody else went in the opposite direction, especially after the signing of "all-world" Rob Johnson. I have always felt that Brad Johnson would be an ideal quarterback for the "West Coast Offense." Johnson is much more mobile than he is given credit for. It is just that he knows well how to dump off that last-second short pass and let the more nimble runners do their job. I actually thought it was a shame that he was forced out of Washington . He was the perfect fit for the West Coast-style offense Schottenheimer installed. The guy even reminds me of Bernie Kosar, a little, and he was a stud, under Schottenheimer, ironically.

     It will not take too long for Gruden to realize that Shaun King simply does not have an NFL-caliber arm, Rob Johnson, at best, needs quite a bit more work and that Brad Johnson is the hardest-working, smartest and, bottom line, best all-around quarterback he has. In 1999, was it not Johnson that made a hero out of theretofore "suckass" Michael Westbrook? Did he not pass for 4,000+ yards, have 26 touchdowns, and achieve a solid 90 passer rating before falling prey to the Snyder-George-Schottenheimer debacle and then falling into the abyss now known as Tony Dungy's Buccaneer "O", which did not even have a real offensive coordinator with any kind of proven track record. New head coach Jon Gruden has acquired all of the complementary parts: WR Joe Jurevicious, TE Ken Dilger and RB Michael Pittman. Along with the Johnson’s, Brad and Keyshawn, Tampa ’s offense will finally produce some fantasy-worthy action.

     All of this talk about Johnsons and I cannot help but think about Rod... Smith, that is! According to one fairly reputable source, only one of Denver’s wideouts will make it all the way back this season; Rod is suffering through a stress fracture from playing through his ankle injuries last season and has thus far this off-season been limited to riding the stationary bike to stay in shape and Ed McCaffery is still recovering from his broken leg, and this writer's "money is on 'White Man Deluxe'." This opinion is predicated, of course, on the very well-founded and logical parallel drawn between the hard-working receiver Smith's missing of the Broncos' first mini-camp and Titans "workoutaholic" running back Eddie George's missing off-season workouts last year and his subsequent under-productive 2001 campaign. Oh, but of course, the situations ooze similarities. Both players play the same position... no! Okay, they suffered the same injury(ies)... no, again! Okay, they both, at least, underwent off-season surgery of some kind... nope! They are both hard workers... okay, yes, and according to this clown it stands to reason that two hard-working players playing different positions for different ball clubs with completely different injury situations will suffer the same fate. Come on! The bottom line is that Eddie George’s poor season last year was all about three (interrelated) things, not just about his being a hard worker who was unaccustomed to missing off-season workouts: 1) the loss of fullback Lorenzo Neal; 2) his "between the tackles" bruising running style and how tough it is on his shoulders, another part of his body that was banged up; 3) his toe injury and subsequent toe surgery. Those little digits on your feet are more crucial to an athlete than you could ever imagine and injuries to them are tough to recover from and easy to re-injure. Just ask Deion Sanders and O.J. McDuffie what kind of havoc toe injuries and surgeries wreaked on their careers!

     Eddie George's sitch has absolutely nothing to do with Rod Smith. I do not work for the Broncos' training staff. Perhaps he will have a tough time getting back to 100% by Week One, almost four months from now, or, perhaps, I am sitting here writing this at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night somewhere in South Korea on a four-and-a-half-hour "Mugunghwa" train ride from Andong to Seoul . Well, okay, that unlikely event, cosmically speaking, is, in fact, true, but this is the present tense. Point being, we do not know the future, and these same guys that are burying Rod this year are the same ones who had Jimmy Smith, a wide receiver like Rod, dead and buried by June last year. 112 catches, 1,373 yards and eight TD’s later...

     Opinion aside, all things equal, as they are at present, "Johnson and Rod," in all likelihood, will rise to the occasion in 2002! That is not what my money is on; in fact, that is what the Buccaneers and Broncos' money is on.

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