NFL Nation: Lovie Smith

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NFL Nation's Pat Yasinskas examines the three biggest issues facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into training camp.

Josh McCown needs to play like he did last season: McCown’s been a backup most of his career. But he played the best football of his life last season for Chicago after starter Jay Cutler went down with an injury. That was enough to convince the Bucs that McCown can be a productive starter. McCown has history with Lovie Smith, and he already has established himself as one of Tampa Bay’s leaders. The Bucs have made it clear that they view Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future. But the best-case scenario is that Glennon never even gets on the field this season. If he doesn’t, that means McCown is playing well. At 35, McCown has a chance to firmly establish himself as a starter for the first time in his career. His chances of succeeding are good because he's surrounded by good skill-position players such as Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

Carl Nicks’ health is a key: The left guard played only two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Nicks repeatedly has said he expects to be ready for training camp. But, as of the team’s June minicamp, Nicks hadn’t even started running or cutting. He’s admitted that there is permanent damage to his foot and said he’ll have to play through pain the rest of his career. It all sounds shaky, and you have to wonder if Nicks really can make it back and if he’ll be the same player. The Bucs need Nicks to be what he was earlier in his career. When he’s healthy, Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. He could be the anchor of what has the potential to be a very good offensive line. If Nicks isn’t fully recovered, there’s a sharp drop-off to rookie Kadeem Edwards and veterans Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins.

The pass rush needs to flourish: Smith prides himself on having teams that play strong defense. The Bucs seem to have some talent on defense. But to hit their full potential, they need the pass rush to be strong. The pass rush was a weakness last season, and that’s why the Bucs signed free agents Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. The Bucs believe Johnson and Adrian Clayborn can bring a strong pass rush from the outside, and McDonald and Gerald McCoy can do the same from the inside. One of the requirements for the Tampa 2 defense is for there to be a strong pass rush from the front four. If the Bucs get that, they’ll be in good shape defensively. The Bucs are in good shape at linebacker and in the secondary. If the pass rush shows up, this defense has a chance to be special.
Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were a consistent contender because they played strong defense. The coach will try to get the same result with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the ingredients are there for that to happen.

Smith inherited some special talent in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Both are just reaching their prime. Smith has compared McCoy to Warren Sapp and David to Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were the keys to the defense during Tampa Bay’s glory days. The Bucs believe McCoy and David can fill the same roles in the new generation and that a strong defense will help make the franchise relevant again.

McCoy and David are going to be good for years to come and they form a strong foundation. But the Bucs will need some complementary players to come through for this defense to be really good. Defensive end Michael Johnson was brought in as a free agent because the Bucs believe he can bring pressure from the outside. If he does, that’s only going to help McCoy and Clinton McDonald in the middle.

A strong pass rush will only help a secondary that has good potential, but hasn’t hit it yet. Alterraun Verner was brought in to be the No. 1 cornerback, but the Bucs need Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to step up as the other cornerback and nickelback. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have talent and can form a nice tandem.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster is going to get a chance to play a more significant role than he has in the past. Foster will call the defensive plays and be asked to drop into coverage more than he did in his first three seasons.

This defense will be the key factor in determining if Smith’s regime will succeed. The offense can be average, but the defense has to be special.
One thing coach Lovie Smith has said several times is he wants to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers relevant again.

They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and haven’t won a postseason game since their Super Bowl victory more than a decade ago. They are coming off a 4-12 season and have a bunch of new faces and a new coaching staff.

But one expert already sees the Bucs as relevant. That is ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, a former Tampa Bay assistant. Edwards predicted the Bucs and the Pittsburgh Steelers as his two Super Bowl teams for the upcoming season.

That might be a stretch, because neither team made the playoffs last season. I’m not sure the Bucs are Super Bowl ready, but I do think they will be one of the league’s most improved teams and will have a shot at the playoffs.

My logic is pretty simple. Good defense makes you competitive, and I think the Bucs are going to have an excellent defense. They have defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David, who might be the best in the league at their positions. They also have plenty of competent role players on defense.

I think the defense alone could make the Bucs a .500 team. If the offense is even halfway decent, Tampa Bay could have double-digit wins. If the offense is good, Edwards’ prediction might not be too far off.
As a rookie, Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks got plenty of attention from opposing offenses and Tampa Bay fans.

Banks, a second-round draft pick last year, drew attention for all the wrong reasons. He frequently struggled in coverage and that led to lots of targets by offenses and criticism from fans.

But Banks is getting a fresh start with coach Lovie Smith importing the Tampa 2 defense. Banks should be in position to succeed much more often than he did a year ago.

"Banks is a great fit for our scheme," Smith said. "I was talking with Johnthan a little bit. We're not the only wide receiving group in the division that's gotten taller, there are others that have done the same thing. We're going to need a couple of 6-feet corners now, at least six-plus corners, of course that's Johnthan and I like what he did last year as a young player playing. Coachable guy, who has talent, I'm excited about coaching him.”

Smith should be excited. Banks has the size to match up with large wide receivers. He also has some raw talent that wasn't always seen before. In the Tampa 2, Banks will be allowed to be more aggressive because he'll have help from the safeties.

Gerald McCoy mum on contract

May, 27, 2014
May 27
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy may be looking at a multimillion-dollar contract extension, but he doesn't want to talk about it.

"I don’t know anything about that," McCoy said. "I just come to work at practice. Until there is a paper signed I don't know anything about a contract. I just know about coming to work and working hard every day."

The Bucs have said that signing the Pro Bowler to a contract extension is a priority. There have been reports that the team has reached out to one of McCoy's agents to start the negotiation process, but the two sides aren't believed to be close to finishing a deal.

McCoy said he'll stay out of those talks.

“I talk to [coach] Lovie [Smith], I talk to my teammates, and everybody is talking about coming to work and working hard every day," McCoy said.

McCoy will leave things up to his agents and general manager Jason Licht. In a relative sense, this shouldn't be a difficult deal to work out. McCoy is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, which means a new contract should average around $13 million per season.

Buccaneers offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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 With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Buccaneers' offseason moves.

Best move: Signing defensive end Michael Johnson as a free agent from Cincinnati. Johnson has posted double-digit sacks before and he should be a pass-rushing force on the outside. That’s something the Bucs lacked last season. With defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on the inside and Johnson on the outside, the pass rush should be much better. That’s going to help the entire defense, particularly the secondary.

Riskiest move: The Bucs quickly signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown and named him the starter. For a team that clearly is in a win-now mode, this is a risky move. McCown has been a backup most of his career and has made only 38 starts. He played well in relief of an injured Jay Cutler in Chicago last season. But there’s nothing in McCown’s track record to suggest that he can win consistently over the long haul. Coach Lovie Smith has history with McCown and is comfortable with the veteran quarterback. But the Bucs were in a position to get a potential franchise quarterback in the draft and they passed. Smith has gone out on a limb with McCown and second-year pro Mike Glennon is the only safety net.

Most surprising move: The Bucs had perhaps the best cornerback in football in Darrelle Revis. But one of the new regime’s first moves was to unload Revis as quickly as possible. That freed up a large chunk of salary-cap space that was used to address other positions. The Bucs did a nice job of replacing Revis with Alterraun Verner. The Bucs got Verner at a reasonable price and he’s in the prime of his career. But you still have to question the decision to part ways with a player with Revis' skills.

The bigger, the better: McCown had success with an oversized receiving corps in Chicago last year and the Bucs are trying to duplicate that. They already had 6-foot-5 receiver Vincent Jackson and they used their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans (6-4) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-5). That trio is going to create some major matchup problems for opposing defensive backs.

Glennon happy with future

May, 20, 2014
May 20
TAMPA, Fla. -- There was speculation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel. There were rumors they were going to trade Mike Glennon.

Through it all, one guy had peace of mind. That was Glennon. He had a pipeline straight to the truth, straight to coach Lovie Smith.

"As all that stuff was going on Lovie called me twice to tell me that wasn't the case," Glennon said Tuesday. "That he didn't know where it was coming from. He was very open with me, very open and honest about how he feels now and how he feels going forward."

To the general public it seemed like Smith, his coaching staff and new general manager Jason Licht all were down on Glennon, who started 13 games as a rookie last season. As soon as free agency started, the Bucs went out and signed veteran Josh McCown, who had history with Smith because they were together with the Chicago Bears.

Glennon appeared to be hanging in limbo. But on the first night of the draft, Smith emphatically said Glennon was his quarterback of the future when asked why he didn't draft Manziel. Smith's proclamation was news to the rest of the world, but not to Glennon.

"It was communicated a while ago both with Lovie and Jason," Glennon said. "We sat down and they discussed what the plans were for Josh moving forward and they told me this all along, that I was their guy moving forward. Right now, it's a different situation with Josh here, but they told me this for a while now, that this was the plan, this is what's going to happen and I'm looking forward to this season still competing and helping the team in any way I can and just following their lead."

Glennon said he appreciates the open communication from Smith and Licht and feels good about his future.

"Yeah, it feels good," Glennon said. "But at the same time, I've known this. It's been communicated to me and they've backed it up with everything that's happened."

Glennon said the dynamic with McCown has worked out well so far and that he's learning from the veteran.

"He's just so far advanced in his knowledge," Glennon said. "He's been around the game. I can compare notes and he offers a lot of advice that not a lot of guys know. He's really like another coach out there for me and a coach that's been through this for a long time now and he offers a lot of advice and he genuinely wants to help me, and that's what's great about him."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers rookie Robert Herron said he’s patterning himself after veteran NFL receiver Steve Smith. He’s off to a good start.

Like Smith, Herron is an undersized receiver with the potential to contribute to the return game. But the similarities don’t end there, and Smith and Herron might have something more in common.

Anyone who has followed Smith’s career with the Carolina Panthers and now with the Baltimore Ravens knows the receiver plays with a chip on his shoulder.

“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder because I feel like I should have went before,’’ Herron said.

Herron, a Wyoming product, was referring to the fact that he wasn’t drafted until the sixth round.

“I’m definitely motivated,’’ Herron said. “I thought I was going to go before that. But you never know how the draft is going to go. I wasn’t expecting that but I knew it could happen. I’m definitely going to try to go hard on every team that either I took a visit with or a workout with.’’

If Herron uses that fuel to be even half as productive as Smith, the Bucs will be very happy.

The Bucs see Herron as someone that has a chance to be their slot receiver. They have plenty of size with starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, but they can use someone with speed to stretch the field. Herron said he spent much of his college career in the slot and is comfortable in the position.

But the Bucs also are looking at Herron in another spot. During this weekend’s rookie camp, Herron has gotten some work as a punt returner.

“He didn’t do a lot in college, but he has been working on it,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. “He caught the ball better today than he did yesterday. I was a little concerned to say the least yesterday. But today was better. It was windy. But, as I told them, there’s going to be a couple of windy games that we’ll be playing this year.’’

Herron said he hasn’t returned punts since high school. But Herron said he’s spent the last few months working on punt returns because it would make him more marketable in the NFL.

Bucs release TE Tom Crabtree

May, 17, 2014
May 17
TAMPA, Fla. -- At least for the moment, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reduced the crowd at tight end.

Veteran Tom Crabtree was released Saturday, coach Lovie Smith said.

“We have some numbers at tight end and it wasn’t looking really good for him,’’ Smith said. “Whenever I see that maybe it’s not going to work out for a veteran, I try to give him an opportunity to get on with someone else. That was the case with Tom. He’s a good football player and he’s played some good ball in the league.’’

Crabtree was signed as a free agent from Green Bay last year and the hope was he could be an all-around tight end. But injuries prevented Crabtree from making much of an impact.

The Bucs knew they had to get better at tight end and that’s why they used a second-round draft pick this year on Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The Bucs also have Tim Wright, Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker at tight end and that made Crabtree expendable.

But the Bucs still could add another tight end to fill Crabtree’s roster spot. Taylor Sloat and Jamel Johnson are trying out during this weekend’s rookie camp.
TAMPA, Fla. -- After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted running back Charles Sims in the third round, the conspiracy theories started to fly about Doug Martin.

Some speculated he was on the trading block. Others said his skills weren’t being embraced by the new coaching staff.

Forget all that. Coach Lovie Smith emphatically said during Friday’s rookie camp that Martin is his feature back.

"Doug’s our starting tailback," Smith said. "He’s on most of the billboards around here. He’s an All-Pro running back. There’s nothing to dislike about Doug Martin. At the same time, we want Doug around for many years. By that, you need to have some other guys. He can’t carry it every second of the way. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. We couldn’t be more pleased with him."

The Bucs have plenty of depth with Sims, Mike James and Bobby Rainey and it sounds like they plan to use it. That is a good thing.

Previous coach Greg Schiano wasn’t a big believer in rotating his ball carriers. That is something Smith has said he wants to do.

It's a smart move. Martin is a strong runner, but the pace Schiano had him on wasn’t conducive to keeping Martin fresh. Smith’s approach is better, because splitting some of the carries will prevent Martin from getting worn out.
TAMPA, Fla. -- During the draft, one of the phrases we heard frequently from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was "catch radius."

About 90 minutes into Friday’s rookie camp, we saw exactly what coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht were talking about. During a 7-on-7 drill, first-round draft pick Mike Evans made a leaping, one-handed catch on a ball that appeared to be overthrown by quarterback Brett Smith.

Evans, who was picked No. 7 overall, fully extended his 6-foot-4 body and snatched the ball with what had to be an extra-large catch radius.

“You take a player that high in the draft, you expect to see some spectacular plays,’’ Smith said.

Evans’ catch was the highlight of the day, but he made several other nice catches.

“We haven’t been surprised by an awful lot,’’ Smith said.

Evans has been as good as advertised. He got a head start working with the veterans earlier in the week. Smith said Evans has been picking up the offense very quickly.

“Mike, of course, has great hands and the physical ability,’’ Smith said. “You can see that. It does take a lot for a rookie to come in. We’re not there. We’re not game ready by any means right now. But we like the progress we've seen since day one.’’

Evans’ size was one of the reasons the Bucs drafted him and Smith said he’s happy with what he’s seen so far.

“It’s good to see him up close going against a 5-10 defensive back,’’ Smith said. “We have some big, tall men out there making plays. He has excellent hands. We saw that in college.’’

On Friday, they started to see those hands in the NFL.
The post-draft Power Rankings are out and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the rise.

Apparently, the voters liked what the Bucs did in the draft because Tampa Bay now is ranked No. 23. The Bucs were No. 27 in the previous edition of the rankings.

The voters must view the Bucs as being something close to a .500 team. They’re ranked between Dallas and Miami, who were both 8-8 last season.

The Bucs were 4-12 last season, but they’ve been making solid moves throughout the offseason. I view the Bucs as a team on the rise -- and so do the voters.

Coach Lovie Smith has talked several times about how he wants the Bucs to be relevant again. The move up in the rankings can be taken as a sign that the Bucs are headed in the right direction.

But we’ll have to wait until the season starts to see if the Bucs really have turned the corner.
Austin Seferian-JenkinsOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Bucs began their Day 2 of the draft by taking Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has repeatedly talked about how his year off from coaching gave him new perspective. Apparently, that's no exaggeration.

Back in his days with the Chicago Bears, Smith was known as a coach who was focused almost solely on defense, often to the detriment of his offense and the bottom line. But Smith's Tampa Bay tenure is off to an offensive start.

A day after taking wide receiver Mike Evans with a first-round pick, the Bucs selected University of Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round (38th overall). They followed that up by taking West Virginia running back Charles Sims in the third round (69th overall).

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs took West Virginia running back Charles Sims in the third round.
It might appear as if offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was calling the shots in the draft room, but Smith has final say over personnel matters and he has signed off on three offensive players so far.

"We had a plan and that was to get great football players," general manager Jason Licht said. "It wasn't necessarily we're just going to address the offense, but it just so happened the way it fell, I've always talked about having the best player available versus need and where they converge."

They converged on offense, largely because that side of the ball was a weakness for the Bucs last season. That helped cost coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik their jobs and brought Smith and Licht to town.

The selection of Evans was no surprise at all. The addition of Seferian-Jenkins addressed a very underrated need. The Bucs had a stockpile of tight ends already, but none of them stood out. Seferian-Jenkins will likely get a chance to start right away.

"We didn't go into the draft thinking we had to get a tight end," Licht said. "But when a guy is sticking out like a sore thumb, you pounce."

Seferian-Jenkins had 36 catches for 450 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season of college. He also played basketball early in his career and he said he can give the Bucs a complete tight end.

"I'm going to bring explosiveness," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I'm going to bring playmaking ability. I'm going to bring blocking. I'm going to bring an all-around tight end that can play on all three downs and a guy that's going to work hard and chase Super Bowls and try to win as many games as possible for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization."

The selection of Sims, who excelled as a receiver out of the backfield, was more of a surprise because the Bucs already had Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps on the roster.

"It may seem to the outside that running back was a pretty strong position, and we felt that way, but this one kind of stood out like the tight end did," Licht said. "We have a chance to get a back that has a versatile skill set that can score points for us, and we didn't want to turn it down."
While playing in Chicago last year, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown had a lot of success throwing to a pair of big receivers – Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

That’s why it’s no coincidence the Buccaneers drafted 6-foot-4 Mike Evans in the first round Thursday night. Evans instantly will enter the starting lineup opposite 6-5 Vincent Jackson. That will give the Bucs one of the biggest receiver tandems in the NFL. Coach Lovie Smith even jokingly referred to Evans and Jackson as the “twin towers.’’

“I think if you look at the league last year – and I of course had a lot of time to watch the league last year – I saw what two big receivers can do,’’ Smith said. “It’s a tough matchup if you just look at the average height of most cornerbacks in this league. You might have a 6-foot corner, but you normally don’t have two big guys that can match up like that.’’

Critics will say the Bucs still need a speed receiver and there’s some truth to that. But the Bucs now have two starting-caliber receivers – something they didn’t have before the draft. The Bucs still have time to find a speed receiver to put in the slot.

“We want to score points in any way we can,’’ Smith said. “This is a combination that looked pretty attractive to us. Of course, having a player like Josh McCown here – Josh, of course, has been in that situation and to say Josh has been in our ear quite a bit is an understatement. Seeing that [combination in Chicago] work like that was attractive to us, but as much as anything, we saw a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball that we had a chance to get that we really felt like could help us.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the first time since his hiring, Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith announced his quarterback of the future Thursday night.

Smith made it clear that it isn’t Johnny Manziel when he passed on the Texas A&M quarterback and instead selected his college teammate, wide receiver Mike Evans, with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft.

Moments after the pick, Smith stepped into the media studio and started getting grilled about why he passed on Manziel, who had been tied to the Bucs in a lot of the pre-draft hype. In the middle of it all, Smith made a very strong declaration.

[+] EnlargeGlennon
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaWith Mike Glennon already in the mix, Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith said passing on the likes of Johnny Manziel in the NFL draft was the correct call.
“It’s what’s best for us," Smith said. “Just talking about our quarterback position, our quarterback position is as strong as any quarterback position I’ve had when I’ve been a head coach. You know how much I like Josh McCown as our starter. I love Mike Glennon. Mike Glennon is our quarterback of the future here. So why would you want to add a third quarterback to the mix? We needed other positions. Forget just the quarterback position, we thought this was the best available player for us. It was an easy decision for us."

So Glennon’s the quarterback of the future? That’s something Smith hadn’t said previously. In fact, the early signs were that Smith and the new coaching staff in Tampa weren’t at all high on Glennon, who started 13 games as a rookie last season. The Bucs started free agency by signing the veteran McCown.

On the day McCown was signed, Smith wasted no time in publicly saying the veteran would start off as the No. 1 quarterback. Since then, Smith has had some praise for Glennon, but the second-year pro has seemed like more of an afterthought -- until Thursday night.

Going with McCown for the short term and Glennon for the long term wasn’t the flashy choice. Manziel would have been that. A Heisman Trophy winner with a large personality, Manziel would have helped the Bucs sell tickets and brought the team tons of attention.

Wasn’t Manziel the best player in Texas A&M’s offensive huddle last season?

“We’re going off our opinions and we felt like he wasn’t," general manager Jason Licht said.

As tantalizing as Manziel’s mobility and playmaking ability might have been, the Bucs are following the right path by going with Glennon for the long haul. Manziel came with risk as well as reward and he could end up being a bust.

Glennon might not have Manziel’s upside, but the Bucs already have a year invested in him. As a rookie, Glennon played reasonably well after being thrown into the starting lineup in the fourth week of the season after Josh Freeman imploded.

Go with McCown for a full season or maybe half a season and then turn it over to Glennon. He’ll have a better team around him than he did as a rookie, and Evans is a big reason for that. Evans fills a big need opposite Vincent Jackson.

Evans instantly will step into the starting lineup. Evans is 6-foot-4 and Jackson is 6-5. They’ll form one of the biggest receiver tandems in the NFL and that should only help McCown and Glennon.

“I like having a 6-5 guy versus a 5-9 or 5-10 corner and throwing the ball up," Smith said.

The Bucs didn’t make the splashy move in the first round of the draft. But maybe going with Glennon and giving him Evans was the right move for this franchise.