By Max Luckan
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Michael Johnson – DE – #90
Weight: 270 lbs.
Hometown: Selma, AL
College: Georgia Tech
Experience: 6 years
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for some mysterious reason, have had very little success on the defensive line in recent years. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has turned into a ferocious specimen and undoubted leader on this team, may be the only exception. But for the most part, the defensive line has struggled, which is why the team went and signed defensive end Michael Johnson to a five-year deal worth $43.75 million in the offseason.
Of course, the Bucs had to get rid of cornerback Darrelle Revis in order to make the signing of Johnson financially feasible, but they are hoping that Johnson can provide a strong pass rush on the outside. Da’Quan Bowers has disappointed and Adrian Clayborn has had flashes of brilliance, but has also largely failed to impress in the grand scheme of things.
Tampa Bay hasn’t had a great edge rusher since the days of Simeon Rice, and at this point, Johnson is far from a great edge rusher. He only managed 3.5 sacks last season with the Cincinnati Bengals and 56 tackles, so it is evident that the Bucs and new Head Coach Lovie Smith were clearly looking at the upside that Johnson has. The key thing to remember with Johnson is that the year before in 2012, he racked up 11.5 sacks and he does have 26.5 sacks overall so far in his six years in the NFL. To that end, the Bucs and general manager Jason Licht are well aware that the skill is there for Johnson, and now he just has to provide the defensive line with the spark that they are missing.
With that being said, Johnson is still a gamble for the Bucs, especially at that price. Essentially, Johnson was the best pass rusher available in free agency, so he may be worth the risk. And the Bucs didn’t really like anyone in the draft, as was evidenced by the decision to only draft offensive players, so Johnson has to be the guy this year. In order for the defense to be successful, Johnson definitely has to double his sack total from last season. Anything short of seven sacks would be seen as a disappointing season, especially due to the fact that the Bucs still do play in a tough and highly competitive NFC South.
This season, Johnson is expected to start opposite of Adrian Clayborn and obviously alongside McCoy. The defensive line can be a strongpoint for the Bucs if these three play at a high-caliber level, something they are all capable of. The success of the Bucs’ defense this season could actually depend on Johnson’s ability to rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks, something that Simeon Rice was very good at. Johnson himself said that he wants to play like Rice did when he was a member of the Bucs. And when you watch the tape, it becomes apparent that Johnson has the talent to be a disruptive force for the Bucs this season, yet there is a certain amount of pressure on him to perform well even though the Bucs have McCoy.
It remains to be Johnson can handle the pressure and perform well for this new Bucs’ defense, but for now, he has a pretty good idol in Rice to emulate.
Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. Max is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.