Johnson: McCown could play pro hoops

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Josh McCown didn't do much on the football field during two seasons as a backup quarterback with the Carolina Panthers, but he apparently made an impression on the basketball court at Charlotte's Dowd YMCA.

Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson and linebacker Thomas Davis heaped so much praise on McCown's game that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback might feel obligated to put them on his Christmas list.

"He's athletic, man," Johnson said as he looked ahead to Sunday's opener in Tampa. "He can play. He can shoot, and he plays with a couple of NBA guys, so he's more athletic than people know.

"I think he could play professionally."

And how did Johnson stack up to McCown on the court?

"I'm just a role player," Johnson said with a laugh. "That's all I do. I'm a big man."

Johnson is big (6-foot-2, 285 pounds), but he's more than a role player for the Carolina defense. Third on the team's all-time sack list with 54, he is a big reason the Panthers ranked second in the league in total defense last season.

And you can bet that McCown, who completed 1 of 6 pass attempts for 2 yards during the 2008 and 2009 seasons at Carolina, will be aware of where Johnson is.

McCown's time on the basketball court with Johnson is one of the reasons.

"That has served well as a scouting reminder that this guy is athletic," McCown said. "I've seen Charles on the basketball court, and the guy can move and the guy can play. Whether I go to scramble or I am in the pocket or wherever, knowing an athlete like Charles is on the other side of the ball, you know where he's at all times."

Johnson, who is nursing a sore hamstring, is coy about how effective he will be. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the former Georgia star could have played in last Thursday's exhibition finale at Pittsburgh, but Johnson wasn't so sure.

"It would have been tough," he said.

Johnson went through every segment of Wednesday's practice in full pads, which was a good sign for the Panthers.

"Charles had a very good day," Rivera said.

That can't be good news for McCown. Johnson had two sacks during the Panthers' 31-13 victory at Tampa last season. With Johnson sidelined with a minor knee injury the second time the teams met, the Panthers had five sacks.

"The front seven in general is exceptional, probably the best or one of the best in the league," said McCown, who signed as a free agent from Chicago to stabilize the Bucs' quarterback situation. "They all play hard and are athletic. But Charles, he's a different kind of athlete on the end."

McCown apparently is a different kind of athlete on the basketball court, at least for an NFL quarterback.

"He might be one of the best basketball players that's not in the NBA that I've ever played with," Davis said. "He's obviously got the jump shot. I've also seen Josh go and dunk on guys. Whenever you have a player that's that versatile and can go to the hole and can shoot, it makes it tough for guys to defense."

Good news for Carolina: The NFL outlawed dunking this season and this game won't be played on the hardwood.