By Tim Graham
One of Stevie Johnson's most admirable traits is how confident he is in his teammates. The Buffalo Bills receiver always professes his faith in those around him, even Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Johnson went so far as to suggest last season Fitzpatrick should be giving play-calling priority over Chan Gailey.
Johnson was equally as effusive when describing his excitement about the 2013 passing attack with new quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb.
"The talent is there," Johnson told me as minicamp broke last month. "It's just about patience right now. We need to get in tune with each other. We can run anything. We can make all the passes. We can make all the catches. We've just got to be on the same wavelength mentally."
So what's different? I reminded Johnson he always has been supremely optimistic in the offense, that he has expressed similar optimism before.
"I felt like that," Johnson said. "I believe in my guys, whoever it is."
One of Fitzpatrick's biggest flaws was that he couldn't make all the throws. The Bills rarely tried to stretch the field, and when they did, Fitzpatrick had one of the league's worst long-ball passer ratings.
There were times when Johnson was open for a potentially long gain, but Fitzpatrick couldn't connect. Rookie sprinter T.J. Graham was rendered useless as a deep threat.
Among quarterbacks who threw at last 25 percent of their team's passes, ProFootballFocus.com data ranked Fitzpatrick 32nd in completion percentage on passes that traveled 20 yards or farther downfield.
Fitzpatrick completed 12 of his 51 attempts (27.5 percent) for 414 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Kolb completed only four of his 15 passes (26.7 percent) of at least 20 yards for the Arizona Cardinals last year, but they went for 132 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. That's for an offense with Larry Fitzgerald.
Similarly to his optimism about Fitzpatrick the past few years, Johnson has felt strongly about his fellow Bills receivers. But the likes of Lee Evans, Terrell Owens, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish and James Hardy weren't as productive as Bills fans hoped.
"Even when I wasn't playing," Johnson said of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, "I felt, 'Yo, we got T.O. We got Evans. We got Roscoe.'
"Now, it's the same thing. But it's showing. We got guys with crazy speed."
Johnson broke into laughter as a thought crossed his mind.
"One thing that's different," he said. "I'm, like, extra slow compared to last year. But it's all good."
taggedEJ Manuel | Kevin Kolb | Ryan Fitzpatrick | Stevie Johnson | T.J. Graham