Column: King for just a day?

About a week ago a man called into a local sports-talk radio show and asked about the quarterback situation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The caller wanted to know how each player ranked up next to each other using last season’s stats and asked if it was looking like Shaun King would end up in the number-three slot.

In case you just crawled out from under a rock, King has some competition this year for the starting job that was simply handed to him at the beginning of last season. The Bucs have brought in two high-profile quarterbacks to strengthen a position they have had problems with in the past. Brad Johnson (Washington Redskins) was picked up as a free agent and Ryan Leaf (San Diego Chargers) on waivers after the close of last season.

The talk show host made it clear he thought King would not be number three but failed to answer the caller’s first question. The caller, who was obviously a Shaun King fan, was trying to make a point.

Ever since Trent Dilfer and backup Eric Zeier both went down a season and a half ago, King has taken practically every snap for the Bucs and has done a decent job.

And now Johnson is poised to take the helm as quarterback for the team that many sports publications will surely pick as “the team to beat” this season.

Which begs the question, is Shaun King getting a fair deal?

The sentiment of the Bucs seems to be, “Well, gee, Shaun … you’ve done a pretty good job so far for us – you haven’t messed up too bad. We’d like to keep you on, but we’d also like to win. And we think Brad is the man to do it. But don’t worry about Ryan Leaf, he’s just here to back you up.”

In just a little more a season, King has a career record of 14-7 as a starter and has led the Bucs to two consecutive postseasons. Last year he had a passer rating of 75.8 and threw for 18 touchdowns, not to mention being the hero in the Bucs’ biggest win of the season when they beat the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football in December. He has done everything that could have been asked or expected of him, short of getting his team to the Super Bowl.

It is clear, however, that he will now take a back seat to a more experienced player who has been brought in to make something happen. While Coach Tony Dungy is still saying Johnson will have to earn the starting position during training camp, he already has his mug on one of the eight season tickets and his jersey is being sold all over town while King’s is quickly becoming a collector’s item.

But maybe Johnson deserves the credit. After all, his completion percentage last year was 62.5, while King’s was 54.4.

But on the other hand, Johnson threw 15 interceptions in just 12 games while King played the full season and had only 13 picks. And King had five rushing touchdowns compared with Johnson’s one.

I’m not saying King is a better quarterback and I’m not saying Johnson won’t do a good job this season. I’m simply answering the caller’s question. Last season, King did have a better overall rating than Johnson and Leaf.

But while King may not be getting the best deal, Buccaneer fans are. Tampa Bay will finally have a chance to live up to the expectations it has fallen short of these past few years. With Johnson’s height (five inches taller than King) and cannon of an arm, his mere presence will change the face of the offense and most likely put up some monster numbers.

Leaf, however, still has to prove he can play in this league before he starts thinking about moving ahead of King.

And King shouldn’t be worried about his back-up role. After all, he has proven himself in the NFL and he will have a future – just not right now. Besides, the Bucs have made too many mistakes when it comes to letting quarterbacks go and watching them blossom. The front office won’t make the same mistake again with King.

King was hailed as a hometown hero during a parade in his name in St. Pete less than a year ago. Now he is entering training camp as the backup again.

But as Trent Dilfer will tell you, even winning the Super Bowl doesn’t guarantee you a job these days. By Dilfer’s standards, King should feel pretty lucky.

– William Albritton is a senior majoring in mass communications