Quarterback Josh Johnson's life could get discouraging if he let it. The journeyman bounces from one NFL city to the next, and his home is also dependent on the health of more established quarterbacks such as the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck. But Johnson rarely gets dispirited because this life is the one he wants for himself.
"If I ever get down on myself, I talk with my family, but mainly it's just being realistic with myself, saying, 'This is what you want. You want to keep playing football. This is part of football. Guys bounce around. Just keep pushing and proving that you want to be here." I feel like I've done that when I've been given the opportunity," he said.
So he keeps pushing, and teams are noticing. That's why with Tyrod Taylor gimpy with a knee injury the Bills chose to sign him as insurance this week.
"He seems to be the first guy that teams are picking up," Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. "He's a guy that has been around a while and can learn fast."
Dalton should know. He and Johnson were in the same quarterback room this offseason during Johnson's second stint in Cincinnati. They also were together during the 2013 season.
"He's a great young guy with great passion for the game and skills," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He thinks the game. He's had good experiences around players, and he's able to sit in the second chair and see the game and help [the starter]."
The Bills hope that Johnson's presence in that room will be beneficial for fellow quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel for two reasons. First, because the Bills will face the Bengals at home this Sunday. Second, because EJ Manuel may be pressed into the starting role depending on how Taylor's MCL sprain progresses. Taylor said on Wednesday that his plan is to remain under center as the starter on Sunday.
Johnson downplayed the amount of intel about this week's opponent that he can bring to his new team, but he acknowledged that it is helpful to have gone up against the Bengals defense all offseason and to have learned much of the team's offense.
"I don't have a copy of their playbook," he said. "I mean, I was well-versed in their offense so we'll see. But I feel like our coaches do a good job of game planning. They've been preparing for teams for their whole careers, guys like [head coach] Rex Ryan, so I'm sure they haven't seen too many new things."
Besides, Ryan is more interested in Johnson's knowledge of the Bills scheme than that of their opponents. The quarterback spent his 2014 season in San Francisco, where he worked with current Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. His understanding of Roman's system, the Bills system, is the primary reason that the team reached out to him.
"We like the fact that he is familiar with this system, and that's what we were wanting in case he does have to play. That was the number one thing," Ryan said. "From what I've been told he is a smart guy. He was able to retain Greg's system, and he has some ability. He's a journeyman, back-up player, but that doesn't mean he's not a good player."
And Johnson has begun to master the role of journeyman quarterback. He's now with his seventh team since 2012.
"It's a lot of change, but again it's part of the business. Just being in the league as long as I have has allowed me to soak up a lot of knowledge. Right now I'm really trying to just get in the right situation . . . and help an organization create more wins," Johnson said.
At least for now, both Johnson and the Bills feel this is the right situation. The two sides wasted no time getting a deal done. After he was released by the Colts on the morning of October 12th, the Bills contacted his agent that day. Johnson flew into Buffalo on the same night, and signed a contract the next morning. He went right to work.
"For me, starting the game prep on Tuesday, I'm already a day behind because you really start the game prep on Monday," he said. "It helps that I have a familiarity with this team . . . but getting everything acclimated with the playbook, learning the guys, being able to communicate so that if I'm called upon I can be ready . . . I would expect a busy week."