Lately, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle has been talking up Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson, getting an interview and talking about his connection with Jim Harbaugh. It's a tangible connection, not one just brought upon by lack of actual, factual news with a journalistic spin to make it relevant. Johnson was very productive under Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, and there's something to be said about how two people can work very well together. Have you ever had a boss you didn't like, and you ended up working poorly because of it? Contrast that to how you may have performed in similar tasks under someone else? Did you do better? It's certainly possible.
It's not like Johnson has necessarily "not meshed well" with the coaches and personnel in Tampa Bay, just more so that there is something there between him and Harbaugh. It's no guarantee that Johnson could pan out in a 49ers uniform, but isn't it worth a try? Right now, the only quarterback under contract is David Carr, and rookie Colin Kaepernick is set to be signed as soon as it's possible. Alex Smith figures to return by all accounts, so that's essentiall Carr, Kaepernick and Smith competing to start under center for the team in 2011.
Are you really comfortable with that? Smith fits the bill of a veteran at this point, Carr is one also, though one that doesn't inspire much - if any - confidence, and Kaepernick is as raw as you can get. Fans of the team have good reason to be excited about Smith, if they're going off of what Harbaugh has had to say about the quarterback thus far. He's called him a great guy, a great learner, a fantastic athlete, a tough kid ... the adjective/noun combinations could go on and on.
But as was noted when Harbaugh was first brought in, his words have to be taken with a wheelbarrow full of salt. It's not that he doesn't truly believe the things that he says, it's that Smith is his only real, viable option to start from day one right now. Without free agency, without the possibility of making trades or talking to other teams regarding them, Smith is the one guy that Harbaugh can reach, and he's done it through the media. Smith wants to feel wanted, the guy basically feels as though he's hated in 49erland.
Harbaugh is doing a great job of flattering Smith and making him feel like his future should be in San Francisco. Maybe it should be, that's not the point here. The point is that, despite getting a myriad of chances wearing the Red and Gold, Smith is about to get another one, and despite record-high confidence levels under Harbaugh and Greg Roman, it's not something that's close to approaching a sure-thing.
There isn't a sure-thing out there, and Johnson isn't the type of quarterback to fit that bill on a good day, but there's a ton of potential there, a history, and a potentially low price tag. Isn't that worth giving it a shot? Johnson's biggest knock coming out of college was that he'd take awhile to adjust to the NFL level. That doesn't necessarily mean he'd struggle with an NFL playbook, more so that ... everything above that level was a bit beyond him at that point in his life.
Now, he's had some time to work through it, and hasn't gotten an actual, factual honest chance to start. He competed with, and lost to, Josh Freeman. Freeman is on his way to becoming a top quarterback in the National Football League, so what does that say about Johnson? It's true that his time taking tangible snaps in the NFL hasn't gone so well, but who knows what levels of preparation he had taken? Who knows whether he was given an honest chance to learn and adapt?
Johnson's playing style fits just about every iteration of the west coast style offense. He's very accurate given confidence in his own arm, athletic and intelligent. In other words, he's almost exactly the kind of quarterback Harbaugh has described as being somebody he'd want. Add to that the fact that he's still young, (younger than Smith, as it happens) and we have ourselves a tangible option for a quarterback to compete for the job. The other guys have a leg-up on him with the playbook already in hand, but Johnson has worked with Harbaugh in the past, once again.
Lastly, that could help in acquiring him ... Tampa Bay can certainly demand a lot for him, but they won't get a lot, especially if he doesn't want to play there. Their quarterback situation is locked down for the next ten years barring some horrific injuries, and Johnson will want an opportunity to start somewhere. The 49ers make sense, though there are other quarterback-needy teams that could be more appealing to Johnson. It's all about the Harbaugh factor, it seems.