One college start, one pro contract for Bucs' Kelby Johnson

Published May 12, 2016

Here's one you don't hear about often: College player who started only one game in major college football not only gets a tryout with an NFL team, but impresses coaches enough to land a free-agent contract.

That's what Louisville offensive tackle Kelby Johnson did last week after a strong showing at Bucs rookie minicamp. Making the 90-man roster is still a long way from making the team's final 53-man roster in September, but the 6-foot-7, 301-pound prospect is one of the more intriguing long shots the Bucs have added.

"He has a huge upside, just from the fact that he's still very raw, and football is still very new to him," said Chris Klenakis, Louisville's offensive line coach. "He got better and better. I wish I had him back for another year. He's a hard work and he's going to continue to master his craft.

Johnson started his college career at Virginia, played one year at a junior college in Brooklyn and then two seasons at Louisville, though he started only one game with the Cardinals, limited by an ankle injury for part of his senior year. He went to high school at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, a basketball powerhouse, and he played basketball in ninth and 10th grade before shifting his focus to football.

"He's a big kid who's athletic as heck," Klenakis said. "He can bend, can run, can jump, great feet. You really see the basketball background. He's getting the football part down and he's got the intelligence. It's just a matter of technique and repetition."

The Bucs have solid depth on the offensive line and especially at tackle, with Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson entering camp as starters and solid backups in Kevin Pamphile and Gosder Cherilus. They drafted a college tackle in UCLA's Caleb Benenoch and gave a solid bonus to undrafted free agent Leonard Wester.

Tampa Bay had Louisville running back Dominique Brown in camp last season, and while Brown didn't make the cut, one of his old blockers will have a chance to try to do so this summer with the Bucs.