NFL Nation: Lovie Smith

TAMPA, Fla. -- The scouting combine is over and it looks like Jameis Winston has a clear lead on Marcus Mariota as the No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Coach Lovie Smith said he is comfortable after looking into the series of off-field incidents Winston has had. Smith said he can see Winston as the face of the franchise.

That’s largely because there are no questions about Winston on the field. He has played in a pro-style offense and can make all the throws.

"I think with Jameis Winston, even though there are all the off-the-field issues and all of the concerns that you have there -- there are so few concerns when you put on the tape and so few concerns when you talk to him from a football I.Q. standpoint," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Monday. "I just don’t think you pass."

The only way I can see the Bucs passing on Winston is if Mariota lights it up in the two months between now and the draft. Mariota threw well at the combine, and his numbers were better than Winston’s in the speed and agility drills. Those are minor victories for Mariota, who played in a spread system in college.

Smith has said Mariota is a consideration at No. 1. But he needs to do a lot to overtake Winston. He needs to continue to interview well. More importantly, Mariota needs to perform well on the field.

He needs to use his pro day to show he can handle a huddle and that he has mastered three-, five- and seven-step drops. If he can do all that, the Bucs might have a difficult choice to make between Winston and Mariota. But that would be a good thing.
During the scouting combine, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tipped their hand for the first time about what they’re going to do with the first overall pick in the draft.

General manager Jason Licht said the Bucs already have a favorite, but declined to reveal who that is. But coach Lovie Smith seemed to connect the dots when he said, rather emphatically, that he would have no problem making Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston the face of the franchise.

That’s much more information than we knew before and it sure sounds like the Bucs are leaning strongly toward Winston. His football skills are unquestioned and nothing changed in that department with his performance at the combine.

From an on-field standpoint, Winston has a big edge on Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Winston has played in a pro-style offense while Mariota spent his college career in a spread system.

The bigger question, though, had to do with off-field issues. Winston has had several and there was some thought that might scare the Bucs off. But Smith was quick to point out that Winston never was charged in an alleged sexual assault and the coach went on to say he believes in the legal system. Smith implied that Winston’s other off-field incidents were youthful mistakes.

The Bucs already have done a lot of homework on Winston. They’ll continue to do more right up until the draft. But, barring new information or a misstep, it seems like Winston has passed the off-field tests.

Smith isn’t the type to blow smoke. He said he’s fine with Winston. For the moment, all we can do is take Smith at his word.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Marcus Mariota has heard the swirl of rumors that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to take Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. He doesn’t care.

"It doesn’t really affect me at all," the University of Oregon quarterback said Thursday. "That’s going to be their opinion. That’s going to be their decision. All I can really control is how I prepare and get ready for whatever team picks me."

Mariota said he believe he’s the best quarterback in the draft.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Jae C. HongMarcus Mariota on his rookie season: "My goal is to make an impact from Day 1."
"Any player will stand in front of you and say they’re confident in their abilities," Mariota said. "I’m no different. I feel what I’ve done at the University of Oregon and what I’ve learned has prepared me for this level."

Don’t rule out Mariota going with the first pick. Coach Lovie Smith mentioned his name repeatedly Wednesday, and made it sound like the Bucs are deciding between Winston and Mariota. That’s a safe assumption, because scouts and analysts are high on both prospects.

Winston and Mariota are very different. Winston comes with a history of off-field issues while Mariota has none. But Mariota comes with more on-field questions. While Winston played in a pro-style offense in college, Mariota played in a spread scheme.

That means Mariota hasn’t been in a huddle since high school, and I don’t see Smith suddenly switching to the spread. Mariota has been preparing for a potential switch to a pro-style offense for the past month.

He had been working with Kevin O’Connell in California until O’Connell recently was hired to be the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns. But Mariota has continued the work O’Connell started by working out with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

"I think for any rookie quarterback it’s going to be an adjustment stepping up to this new level," Mariota said. "I’m going to continue to absorb as much as I can. Learn from all the people that I can and do my best in whatever situation I get into."

Mariota said O’Connell got him started working on calling plays in the huddle and also working on his footwork.

"(The huddle) seems like a little detail, but that is kind of a big thing," Mariota said. "There are other things as well in terms of the three-, five- and seven-step drops. That’s all stuff I’ve worked on the last month and will continue to work on."

Mariota said he realizes the combine is a tool to make teams believe he can play in a pro-style system.

"It starts with the interviews," Mariota said. "It’s not just blurting out all the football information that you know. It’s kind of processing and showing how you think and how you progress in your reads. Just telling them whatever you were asked to do at whatever school you’re at, and hopefully they’ll believe in what you’re saying and give you an opportunity."

There’s been talk that Mariota might be the type of quarterback who needs to sit for a year while he learns a new style of offense. But Mariota doesn’t buy into that.

"My goal is to make an impact from Day 1," Mariota said. "I’m going to continue to have that mentality and find ways to improve myself to be ready for Day 1."
INDIANAPOLIS – Three things we learned at the combine.

Lovie wasn’t blowing smoke. Coach Lovie Smith sang the praises of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Smith made it a point to say Winston was never charged after sexual assault allegations in college and that, as of the moment, he wouldn’t have any trouble making him the quarterback of the future. A lot of people are going to say Smith simply was blowing smoke. But I don’t think that was the case. Smith reminds me a lot of former Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy in that he’s very truthful. Smith didn’t have to talk so highly of Winston, but he did and I think that says a lot. I also believed Smith when he said Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota isn't out of the picture. There's still a lot of time for the Bucs to make a decision on which quarterback they prefer.

Mankins isn’t going anywhere. General manager Jason Licht said very strongly that guard Logan Mankins will be back with the Bucs. There had been some speculation that Mankins could be a salary-cap casualty as the Bucs overhaul their offensive line. But that’s not going to happen. Mankins is going to be a building block along with right tackle Demar Dotson and, possibly, center Evan Dietrich-Smith. But there are definite changes coming at left tackle and the other starting guard spot.

Mike Glennon has a future. Wednesday was the first time Smith and Licht have talked publicly since the release of quarterback Josh McCown. They thanked him for his contributions but said it was time to move on. Instead of keeping McCown, the Bucs kept Glennon. Smith and Licht both said Glennon has a future with the Bucs. I think it’s pretty clear the Bucs plan to start a rookie right away and use Glennon as the backup.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There's a growing school of thought that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already zeroed in on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

But coach Lovie Smith made it clear several times at the scouting combine Wednesday that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota remains in the picture. For that matter, Smith and general manager Jason Licht wouldn't say with certainty that the Bucs will draft a quarterback. But all indications are they will.

Although the majority of questions asked of Smith were about Winston, the coach made it clear he likes Mariota.

"He's big, he's strong, he's got a strong arm, all of the throws that a quarterback is to make, we've seen him make those throws," Smith said. "He's athletic, he can buy time with his feet. The amount of interceptions he's thrown, I know a lot of the passes he's thrown are screens. But you can't blame him for the system. That's where he is and they won a lot of games with that system. But a part of that system is throwing the ball also."

Some of those already drawing conclusions that Winston will be the pick are citing that he played in a pro-style offense in college. Mariota played in a spread system. But Smith said he thinks Mariota can be a successful NFL quarterback.

"I've heard a lot about this pro-style system in college," Smith said. "But I think if you look at a quarterback, yeah, I think there are some offenses you can run in college that maybe will get you more ready to make that transition. But it's a transition for any college player coming into the NFL.

"In Marcus' case, yeah, he ran an offense that most teams in the league don't run. But I see him scrambling around, I see him making decisions, I see him -- for the most part -- making most of the throws that he'll be making in the league. If you look in our league right now, there are different quarterbacks. There are some mobile quarterbacks. There are some more drop-back pocket quarterbacks. There are guys having success doing it a lot of different ways."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has a well-deserved reputation for being stubborn.

He earned it in his days as the Chicago Bears' coach by doing things like sticking to the Tampa 2 defense and staying with quarterback Rex Grossman when fans were screaming to get rid of both.

So what the heck happened the other day when Smith released quarterback Josh McCown? He was showing flexibility I didn’t think he had. It’s funny how a 2-14 season can change your thinking.

A year ago, McCown was Smith’s hand-picked quarterback. They had been together in Chicago and there was a comfort level that flowed both ways. Mike Glennon, who had started 13 games in 2013, immediately was pushed to the bench to make room for McCown.

In theory, McCown was supposed to be the savvy veteran who rarely made mistakes. In theory, he was supposed to lead a highly efficient offense while the defense and special teams took care of the rest and the Bucs would contend for the playoffs.

In reality, none of that happened. It wasn’t all McCown’s fault. Things started going wrong in the preseason when offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford had to have a heart operation. Tedford left the team and never returned. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo ended up calling the plays and the offense never got into any real rhythm.

It also didn’t help that McCown severely sprained his thumb in the third game of the season. He missed five starts. Although Glennon didn’t play badly in McCown's absence, Smith showed his stubborn streak and went back to McCown after the thumb had healed.

Even when healthy, McCown didn’t play the way he was supposed to. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns and won only one game as the starter.

Still, I thought McCown would be back in 2015. I thought Smith would use him as a mentor for whichever quarterback the team drafts with the No. 1 overall pick -- either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota. McCown is the kind of guy who could have accepted a role like that.

But it didn’t happen. That’s because Smith is showing flexibility, which isn’t a bad thing. The Bucs need change, and Smith is allowing it to happen.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mel Kiper Jr.'s second mock draft Insider is out and it has a lot of changes from his first version -- but not at the very top of the draft.

Kiper once again has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Kiper's opinion is based largely on the fact Winston is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft.

The only other real option for the Bucs at quarterback is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's a wonderful talent, but he played in the spread offense in college. That means it would probably take a year or two for him to adjust to a pro-style offense and there is no guarantee he can do that. Coach Lovie Smith doesn't have the luxury of a lot of time coming off a 2-14 season. He needs to win now.

Winston is the best bet to make that happen. He has all the physical tools and makes good decisions. But there is no guarantee the Bucs will take Winston. Despite his on-field talents, there are questions about him off the field.

Between now and the draft, the Bucs have to do their homework on the off-field incidents Winston allegedly was involved in. That's no small task. The Bucs have to do everything in their power to make sure Winston is ready to be the face of the franchise before they draft him. If the red flags are too strong, the Bucs might have to switch up and go with Mariota.

Which way the wind blows at No. 1

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
TAMPA, Fla. -- Time for a look at what we're seeing and hearing about what the Buccaneers might do with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

It's very early in the process, and much will depend on what happens at the scouting combine, pro days and individual interviews. But the early indicators are that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite -- for now.

I've heard that coach Lovie Smith prefers Winston over Oregon's Marcus Mariota. When Smith chose Dirk Koetter as the Bucs' offensive coordinator over Marc Trestman, the logic was simple. Although Smith and Trestman have similar philosophies about how to run an offense, they disagreed on the quarterbacks. Trestman preferred Mariota.

Smith favors Winston and Smith is the boss. There is lots of logic behind Smith's preference.

Mariota spent his college career running a spread offense. Winston ran a pro-style offense. Both fared well, but there isn't much room for comparison.

At Florida State, Winston ran an offense that is at least somewhat similar to what the Bucs run. The offense Mariota ran looked nothing like that, and the only comparable NFL offense is what the Philadelphia Eagles run.

The Bucs still have to do plenty of homework on Winston off the field. He comes with some red flags. But if the Bucs are looking for a quarterback who fits their current style of offense, Winston has a big edge.
TAMPA, Fla. -- ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has his second mock draft out and there is a big change for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from his first mock draft.

This time around, McShay has the Bucs taking Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick. In his first mock, McShay had the Bucs taking Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Why the switch? According to McShay, Winston is the better fit in Tampa Bay’s pro-style offense. That’s very true. Winston played in a pro-style offense in college, while Mariota played in the spread.

I have a hard time seeing a team coached by Lovie Smith switching to a spread offense. Winston makes total sense for the Bucs from a football standpoint, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lock to go to Tampa Bay.

Winston has encountered some off-field trouble and there are questions about his maturity. The Bucs need to spend the time between now and the draft doing their homework to find out how much of a risk Winston is.

If there are too many red flags, they may have to go with Mariota. But, if they also don’t believe Mariota can make the transition to the pro-style offense, they may consider trading down and adding some draft picks.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms with Mike Bajakian to be their new quarterbacks coach.

Bajakian had been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Tennessee since 2013. Prior to that, he did stints as the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Bajakian also worked as an offensive quality control assistant for the Chicago Bears from 2004 through 2006. Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith was Chicago’s head coach during Bajakian’s time with the Bears.

Bajakian takes over for Marcus Arroyo, who the team previously announced was not returning. Arroyo joined the Bucs as quarterbacks coach in 2014, but ended up as the offensive play caller after coordinator Jeff Tedford had heart surgery in the preseason. Tedford did not return to the team and Arroyo called plays all year. The Bucs ranked 30th in total offense.

Bajakian could end up playing a very important role. The Bucs hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and could use it on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Could Buccaneers pass on a QB?

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
TAMPA, Fla. -- There are an assortment of reasons why Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith hired Dirk Koetter as his offensive coordinator.

But let's break it down to one common belief.

"I do think in the NFL it's easier to win when you have a franchise quarterback, but I don't think it's a necessity that you have a franchise quarterback," Koetter said in a Tuesday conference call with the Tampa Bay media.

Let's keep that in mind for the next few months. The Bucs hold the first pick in the draft and the common belief is they'll take a quarterback -- either Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston. That seems likely, maybe even certain. I'd take one of them because you (theoretically) should only get the No. 1 pick once every generation or so.

But let's say the Bucs aren't sold on Mariota's ability to convert from a spread offense into a more conventional pro-style system. Or let's say they're scared off by what might be red flags in Winston's background.

Maybe they don't even draft a quarterback. Would that decision, coming from Smith, surprise you?

Smith has said several times over that you win in the NFL with defense. He has said you can get to eight or 10 wins with strong defense and good special teams and whatever you get from the offense is a bonus.

Let's keep in mind that one of Smith's first moves as Tampa Bay's coach was to bring in veteran Josh McCown. He'll never be confused with a franchise quarterback. McCown is a very good backup and a border-line starter if you have a very good team around him.

The Bucs don't have a very good team. Maybe that's why they went 2-14, although McCown did miss five games with a thumb injury. But Smith has a stubborn strength (let's all remember he believes the Tampa 2 defense still works) and it's not impossible to imagine him skipping the quarterbacks and going with a defensive end or offensive tackle with the top draft pick.

Koetter's first comments didn't shoot down the possibility of passing on a quarterback.

"I mean, other people have won a lot of games and they didn't necessarily have a franchise quarterback," Koetter said. "The thing is, people have to remember, those guys aren't just out there walking around on the street. Franchise quarterbacks are hard to come by and they're few and far between. I do think it's definitely possible to win without it. But I do think your odds go up if you have one."
TAMPA, Fla. -- The new offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has no better idea who the team’s quarterback will be than you or I.

“Who the Bucs are going to pick with the first pick, I’m the last guy to ask that question to right now," Dirk Koetter said Tuesday afternoon. “I have no idea."

Koetter was speaking with the Tampa Bay media via conference call and made his first public comments since being hired last week. There already is a lot of speculation about whether the Bucs will take Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Florida State’s Jameis Winston with the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. There even is some speculation the Bucs could stick with incumbents Josh McCown and Mike Glennon and go in a different direction with the draft pick.

But Koetter wasn’t shedding any light on who the quarterback will be in 2015.

"You’re going to be disappointed in the answer because I have no idea," Koetter said. “That’s somebody else. (General manager) Jason (Licht) and coach (Lovie) Smith will be in charge of making that decision."

Despite his early dancing, there’s no question Koetter will have plenty of say in what happens at quarterback. He knows a fair amount about McCown and Glennon, but give him a little time to get up to speed on the draft prospects. As Koetter pointed out, Mariota hasn’t declared himself eligible for the draft yet, so he can’t be commented on.

“When you’re coaching in the NFL, you’re watching college football in the distance," Koetter said. “I watch college football for fun. Once we get started and we’re focusing on guys you’re going to draft, now you drill down and really watch guys and put grades on them and that sort of thing. But until then, heck, I watch college football for fun. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you."

But Koetter will have some opinions by the time the draft rolls around. He has several months to watch tape of Mariota, Winston, McCown and Glennon. Koetter is correct in saying the decision will be up to Licht and Smith, but he’s going to have a big voice in this decision.
TAMPA, Fla. -- There are conflicting reports out there about Rod Marinelli perhaps joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff.

Pro Football Talk reported that Marinelli is expected to become Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator. That makes plenty of sense because Marinelli and Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith are close friends.

But a league source told that the report was "pure speculation." Smith told The Tampa Bay Times that he had not spoken to Marinelli and there was no validity to the story.

In an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the team wants to keep Marinelli, whose contract is expiring.

"I know Rod Marinelli has done a fantastic job for us since he's been here," Garrett said. "He's done a great job coordinating our defense this year. We have every intention of keeping Rod Marinelli in his current role as defensive coordinator. We'll take care of the business things after we take care of the business of today, but Rod's a helluva coach and has done amazing things with our football team this year."
TAMPA, Fla. -- The more I watched Marcus Mariota in Thursday night's Rose Bowl, the more convinced I became that the Oregon quarterback can fit nicely with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I went into the game thinking Mariota was a product of Oregon's up-tempo, spread offense. I came out of it thinking Mariota can fit in with just about any type of offense.

Mariota can do more than run, which he does quite well. He showed signs he can be a good pocket passer as his team shredded Florida State.

Mariota is no Tim Tebow, and that’s a wonderful thing. Mariota showed all sorts of signs he can succeed at the NFL level.

That’s where the Bucs come in. They hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and there’s an excellent chance they’ll use it on a quarterback.

Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are the highest-rated quarterbacks by virtually all the draft experts. Despite the score, Winston didn’t play all that badly. He showed signs he can succeed in a pro-style offense.

But, with Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht in attendance, Mariota moved ahead of Winston in the pecking order.

The scouting combine, private workouts and interviews will come in the future. And the Bucs certainly should look closely at tape of all of the games played by Mariota and Winston before making a final decision.

But, at the moment, Mariota has the edge. There are skeptics that say Mariota can’t thrive in a pro-style offense, but I saw evidence to the contrary. But I’m not sure Mariota needs to play in a pro-style offense in the NFL.

Conventional wisdom says there’s no way conservative Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith would go with a spread offense. But Smith went 2-14 last season and the offense was dreadful, so conventional wisdom goes out the window.

Why not bring in an offensive coordinator like Rob Chudzinski? He had a lot of success running the spread offense with Carolina and Cam Newton.

Who says the Bucs have to make Mariota fit in their system? If they build a system to take advantage of Mariota’s strengths, they might end up with the first true franchise quarterback in team history.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers season report card

December, 31, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the 2014 season talking optimistically about a fast turnaround under new coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs were aggressive in free agency, and the company line was the team didn't want to ask fans to be patient any longer.

In reality, the patience of the fans was put to a strong test during a 2-14 season.

Smith's system didn't take hold right away and defeats piled up. Blowout losses to Atlanta and Baltimore were ugly, and there were painful, close losses along the way. The defense showed signs of improvement as the season went on, but this team didn't do much to build optimism for the future. Major personnel moves will have to come in the offseason.

Team MVP: Gerald McCoy. The defensive tackle was a constant on a team that didn't have much consistency. He finished with 8.5 sacks in a season cut short by a knee injury. McCoy was strong against the run and pass, and he also provided strong leadership. The team rewarded him with a big contract extension at midseason. That assures the team has at least one building block in place for the long term. The Bucs could use a bunch of other pieces as solid as McCoy.

Best moment: This season didn't have many highlights, but the Week 4 victory at Pittsburgh definitely was the shining moment. It came with second-year pro Mike Glennon filling in for an injured Josh McCown at quarterback and provided early-season hope. It showed Smith's system could work. The Bucs weren't able to build anything positive off the Pittsburgh win, but it showed they could be competitive on the road against a good team.

Worst moment: You could go in any number of directions on this one, but I think there's a hands-down winner. That was the Nov. 30 home game against Cincinnati. The Bucs seemed to do everything they needed to get a win. They drove the ball into field-goal range in the closing seconds for what seemed like a certain victory. But the play was called back because the Bucs were penalized for having 12 men in the huddle. They wound up losing 14-13.

2015 outlook: The good news is things probably can't get worse. The honeymoon is over for Smith, who needs to show positive results quickly. Despite the losing, Smith talked repeatedly about how his team was improving. You could see that in small portions, particularly on the defense. But the improvement needs to become much more obvious in Smith's second season. His team has the No. 1 overall draft pick and is likely to be active in free agency, and the Bucs need to start winning games or else Smith will end up on the hot seat.