Leonard Johnson: Homegrown Buc Is Ready To Start If Needed
Leonard Johnson grew up idolizing Buccaneer corner back Ronde Barber.
“My mom told me years ago, ‘one day you will replace him,’ and now I’m with the Bucs and he’s (Ronde) still here. He’s a great mentor,” Johnson said as he finished practice this week at One Buc Place.
No one has “replaced” Barber, he’s still on the field albeit at free safety. Johnson has worked his way into a corner slot and could start against Oakland on Sunday.
Johnson was a quarterback at nearby Largo High and found his way into the defensive secondary at Iowa State. The Bucs grabbed him as an undrafted free agent and he has become one of the great surprises this season, although NFL draft guru Mike Mayock believed Johnson would make it. “I said all along that he has skills to play in the league, his only drawback is that he is speed-deficient,” Mayock said last Thursday as part of the broadcast team for the NFL Network working the Bucs-Vikings game.
What Johnson lacks in speed, he makes up for in technique. He had 250 tackles at Iowa State and Buc coach Greg Schiano likes plays who tackle well and Johnson fits that bill.
Johnson’s traveled a long way from the youth league fields he played on for the North Greenwood Panthers in Pinellas County. Now he’s on the biggest of stages and he’s another one of those unheralded players who have stepped up and played well when called upon.
With the suspension of Aqib Talib, the possible suspension of Eric Wright, Anthony Gaitor on injured reserve, Johnson has come up big for the Bucs this season.
He fits Schiano’s mold of a “Buccaneer Man.” He lives at home and is saving his money. He received a $7,500 signing bonus, a meager sum considering what a player like Wright earns. Johnson will make league minimum this year, $390,000, that’s less than one game check for Wright. Johnson’s contract jumps him to $480,000 next year and $570,000 in 2014.
But money cannot buy his opportunity to live his longtime dream — Leonard Johnson — homegrown “Buccaneer Man.”