Clearwater's Leonard Johnson savors start at cornerback with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Published Aug. 25, 2012

TAMPA — Clearwater native Leonard Johnson couldn't help but be wide-eyed when he started Friday's Bucs preseason game against the Patriots.

But for a moment, things got overwhelming for the undrafted rookie cornerback out of Iowa State.

"I'm out there thinking, 'Wait, that's Tom Brady over there,' " Johnson said of quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP.

"I've been watching him since I was a kid. I was kind of in awe of the whole situation. But I had to snap out of that and play ball. You have to focus."

The former Largo High star did that, combining with safety Mark Barron to stuff RB Stevan Ridley for no gain on New England's first possession. He was the third cornerback as the Bucs began the game in a nickel package (five defensive backs).

Johnson had some miscues, too, such as pass interference against WR Brandon Lloyd during the third quarter.

But he has a legitimate shot to make the team. Third-year CB Myron Lewis has cooled off after a hot start to training camp. E.J. Biggers remains sidelined with a broken left foot, and Anthony Gaitor missed Friday's game with a hamstring injury.

Starting the game "meant a lot," Johnson said. "It just lets me know that the coaches trust me to go out there and do my job.

"I learned what I have to adjust. And I realize that everything that I need to improve is stuff that can be fixed. It's small stuff: technique, reads, things that are going to put me in a position to make plays."

WEEK TO WEEK: Against the Titans on Aug. 17, the offensive line struggled to protect QB Josh Freeman and open running lanes. And though RG Davin Joseph was lost to a knee injury, the unit greatly improved Friday.

"I don't know what happened (against the Titans)," C Jeremy Zuttah said. "In this league, just being a little bit off can have that kind of result. So I think we all just came out with that mind-set to try to start fast. Everybody just shook it off and did the job."

However, linemen were called for four false starts. Two came on consecutive snaps against Ted Larsen soon after he replaced Joseph. RT Demar Dotson, who took some snaps in place of Jeremy Trueblood with the first team, committed one.

Said Zuttah: "We're just trying to get everyone on the same page and get better."