In reality, Johnson got his first start just last Sunday, a 16-13 loss to the host Redskins in which all of the Bucs' points were set up by turnovers. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 106 yards, a touchdown and a pick. Tampa Bay converted two of 13 third-down opportunities; the 0-4 Bucs are 11-for-51 in that situation this season.
"A very dynamic football player," McDermott, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, said when asked about Johnson, who ran seven times for 41 yards against Washington. "A young man who has the potential to be a great quarterback in this league."
McDermott said Johnson "brings a tremendous amount of energy to that team."
Historically, the Birds' defense has feasted upon young, inexperienced quarterbacks, bringing rushers from unexpected places, disguising coverages to lure them into interceptions, giving them little time to make decisions. Johnson has a couple of ways to try to mitigate that. The Bucs rely heavily on Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (38 carries, 191 yards, 5.0 yards per carry) and their ground game, and Johnson has an excellent safety valve in tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who has 17 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns this season. Former Seahawk Jerramy Stevens adds a second solid pair of hands at tight end; he has eight catches for 71 yards.
The ground element gets to one of the key unknowns about the Eagles' defense coming out of the bye, which is how much of a factor middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter will be in his first NFL action since he played for Tampa in 2007.
McDermott emphasized yesterday that incumbent starter Omar Gaither still figures in his plans. "It's important to understand that Omar Gaither is a heck of a football player, and his impact on this defense will not change," McDermott said.
Asked about Trotter, McDermott said: "It's important that he comes in and handles things one step at a time; he doesn't look to try to do too much, he just does what his role calls for." McDermott said Trotter will add "a physical presence, a nastiness inside."
It could be that the Eagles aren't quite sure, until they evaluate Trotter's first week of practice, exactly how much they can use him Sunday, though Gaither and Trotter both indicated Trotter is scheduled to start. Special-teams coordinator Ted Daisher, asked if he expected to be able to make use of Trotter, said: "I know he is still capable. I don't know if that's in the plan right now. They're going over his role on defense, and I think that will have a lot to do with whether or not he is going to be available [for special teams]."
Trotter said he thinks he'll be playing first and second downs, initially: "I'm not sure how many plays they'll give me, but however many they give me, I want to make sure I'm ready."
It wouldn't be a shock if Trotter didn't get a huge number of snaps in his first week of action, after his emotional introduction and the first series or two.
Trotter played with Williams in Tampa and has a lot of respect for the 5-11, 217-pound former Auburn star, who splits time with former Giant Derrick Ward and with Earnest Graham, both of whom have been slowed by injuries.
"He's just a tough runner," Trotter said. "He's a very physical runner. He runs like a bigger guy . . . he keeps his legs driving. A lot of times, he looks for contact. When we get to him, we've got to make sure we wrap up and gang tackle."
Several Eagles said they figure Johnson isn't experienced enough to run through a bunch of progressions in the pocket - they have to be prepared for him to take off if his initial target is covered.
"Young quarterback, he's a very smart quarterback, and the cat is fast," Trotter said. "The guy can absolutely fly. He's great in open space, so we've got to do a great job, when he does take off and run, of getting him on the ground. It's going to take more than one guy to do it."
The Eagles have had some adventures covering tight ends this season. In the Kansas City game, reserve linebacker Tracy White, brought in last year as a special-teams ace, got some nickel time, to boost coverage. McDermott and White indicated that experiment will continue against Winslow (and Stevens).
"When you look at Tracy, he's got great speed and coverage ability. When we are looking to match up on a tight end, he can do that for us," McDermott said.
"You have to have discipline with your eyes, when you're covering the tight end, don't be looking back at the quarterback, and stuff like that. [McDermott] wants discipline in that spot, and he says he's going to give me a chance to see what I've got," White said.
White called Winslow "a real fast, physical guy."
Johnson hardly looked downfield at all in the Washington game, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. If the Eagles were confident that pattern would hold, they could stack the box against Williams and the run. But corner Joselio Hanson cautioned against making too many inferences, with so little data.
"We've only got one game to go on," Hanson said.
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