The Frey Guide

January 2nd, 2015
Leonard Johnson

Leonard Johnson rode a big rollercoaster this season, one that ended on the rise.

Nickel cornerback Leonard Johnson really had an up and down season, much like his career has been up and down.

In 2012, the undrafted rookie had three interceptions in limited time playing plenty of man coverage on the outside, as he soaked up mentoring from one of his boyhood heroes: Ronde Barber.

But in 2013, Johnson repeatedly was exposed for what he’s not — fast. That’s why Johnson went undrafted. You just can’t teach speed.

This season, Johnson looked awful as the Bucs’ top nickel back out of the gate. His playing time was cut significantly at midseason, after Tampa Bay acquired Isiah Frey, a backup from Lovie’s days in Chicago.

But Johnson surged late in the year with more playing time. He was strong against mighty Green Bay, and picked off Drew Brees on Sunday. Johnson looked like a new man.

Lovie Smith even referenced Johnson as one of his stud core of special teams players at his year-end news conference.

Joe caught up with Johnson to talk about what went wrong for him early in the year, and what helped him turn things around.

“Just a learning process coming into a whole different defensive scheme. I started out pretty much learning on the job. The defense has a lot of moving parts, and it’s a lot of thinking involved. So you can’t play fast when you really don’t fully understand what’s going on, which was the situation for me,” Johnson said this week.

“We had another guy come in, Isiah Frey. He was familiar with the system. He did a good job playing within the defense, and I actually learned a lot from him just by watching.

Toward the end of the season, man, I just got a chance to get in there and take more snaps make the most of another opportunity.”

Joe asked Johnson to pinpoint a turning for him, and he said things were “clicking” against Green Bay, and Johnson isn’t taking for granted that he’ll be fighting for a job in 2015.

“Whether or not I’m back next year, I’m going to take all this learning and run with it,” Johnson said. “But you always want to play for a coach like Coach Lovie.”

Johnson, 24, the pride of Largo High, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Joe definitely expects him to return. Johnson represents solid depth. And the Bucs can’t afford to be ditching players like that who know the system.

19 Responses to “The Frey Guide”

  1. Tom Edrington Says:

    Some many needs… little time…

    Simple as that….

  2. DB55 Says:


  3. Thunder Sack Says:

    I’m pulling for this dude. He has had some growing pains, but he is showing potential.

  4. bucs4lyfe Says:

    @ JOE

    you have lost your damned mind. solid depth? special teams stud? a special teams stud does nothing for the bucs on a 3rd down pass play and I don’t know what surge you saw but that dude is garbage and one interception against brees doesn’t change that

    you say all kinds of crazy nonsense that you cant back up with any kind of rational thought or stat, we need a solid nickel corner not a special teams stud because those guys are easy to find in the draft because they are guys who will eventually be good players for you….if you can play young o lineman you cant tell me he’s afraid of getting rid of special teams depth good grief

    Do you know how to read? It’s hardly nonsense to suggest that Leonard Johnson is a solid NFL backup. A fifth cornerback, perhaps. Feel free to watch the film of him on special teams. –Joe

  5. BuccaneerBonzai Says:

    “But you always want to play for a coach like Coach Lovie.”

    The Lovie haters know nothing.

  6. Patrick in VA Says:

    Johnson’s game certainly lends itself to this style of defense, once he learns how to work well within it. Because he lacks speed, he has to compensate with anticipation and knowledge of where to be and what to expect pre-snap. It makes sense that he didn’t do well with that at the beginning of the year and his lack of pure physical skills didn’t do him any favors. I think he’ll be good to keep around and he might even get better next year as he takes what was clicking toward the end of the season and builds upon it in the off season.

  7. Danati74 Says:

    The guy is slow, but he makes plays. He should remain on the team as depth period. He isn’t a starter and the Bucs consider the nickel a starter. No other team would start this guy, so why should the Bucs. I thought AV would be a good pick up. Watched a couple of games of him playing for Titans. Hopefully next year AV will be much better in the system. Banks is slow too, but I really like the kid. His size does make a difference.

  8. ToesOnTheLine! Says:

    Kid has smarts…wise is a player nearing the end of his contract and on the bubble of making the roster who gives props to his current coach in an interview.

  9. Tomcin Says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe any player or coach wants to come to Tampa if other options are available. Unless there overpaid like Collins & M. Johnson.

  10. Bear the Bucs Says:

    I am boiling MAD ! Add lazy to incompetence when describing the Tampa Bay Head Coach. I just learned that Lovie has turned down the chance to coach in the Senior Bowl. The one thing that you earn when you have to crappiest record, other than the 1st pick in the draft, is to coach the game. The reason they give the worst team’s personnel a chance to coach is that they can look at these pro prospects up close and personal while preparing for the game. WHAT on earth is more important to him this off season to turn down this offer ??? He says he want to use this time to hire an OC. You can’t do both ?? What has Tampa Bay done to be coupled with this loser? There is no hope, only despair !

  11. Patrick in VA Says:

    @Bear the Bucs – I’d prefer he not do both. If we’re going to get the new OC in here as soon as possible, I’d prefer to have all the resources necessary going toward that so we can get as many potential coaches considered and assessed as necessary. We have plenty of scouts that will do what they do at the senior bowl. The OC decision is much, much more important and giving them ample time to get the scheme devised and in place is paramount to everything else. Our draft last year, and the no name guys that came in and contributed big this year, says our scouts know what they’re doing. Let them work.

  12. BucIt941 Says:

    @Bear The Bucs

    Why are you mad he turned down coaching the senior bowl? The man is focusing on the BUCS. He has a metric crap ton of work to do this off season.

    Do you really think he has time to go work a college version of the pro bowl? Granted, it is a great opportunity to go scout college kids for the up coming draft. At this moment in time and the amount of work that needs to be done to fix this team. Im all for Lovie staying home and focusing on fixing 2015. Personally i would be mad if he DID go!

    This is why we have a big Scout Team. Let them go do the research needed for the draft while the HC focuses on the Bucs!

  13. David 54 Says:

    Could Keith Tandy be a viable candidate to play nickel?

  14. Bucnnole Says:

    Leonard Johnson’s 2014 season:
    The Good: 1 gimme pick and 2 splash special teams plays
    This guy, who I had high hopes for, is a liability.
    He’s a bad tackler who is terrible in coverage. A bad combo for a corner.

  15. Buccfan37 Says:

    Cheers for the homeboy.

  16. Buc'It Says:

    A shaky nickel back but solid special teamer? He’s literally the second coming of Torrie Cox

  17. Mike10 Says:

    Ya this guy needs to go.

    We act like keeping him onboard is necessary for depth. This is the NFL, not a college squad. I promise there is better talent out there than this undersized dude.

  18. LargoBuc Says:

    Largo Packers for li

  19. ddneast Says:

    Again. Here is a player who was benched by Lovie and knows he will be on the bubble next year, but he still speaks well of Lovie and wants to play for him.
    Is it any wonder why when the tam was 2-10 you didn’t see them fold like last year or when they did with Morris.
    You ignorant morons who hate Lovie keep ignoring posts like this and keep basing your opinion on some unfounded hatred.