Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith always kept a home in the Tampa area, visiting his Reddington Shores condo on the Gulf of Mexico as often as possible. But there are other reasons why Smith feels right at home with the Bucs.
Not only was Smith a member of Tony Dungy's original Tampa Bay staff in 1996, he is among the most accomplished on an inaugural staff that included Rod Marinelli and Herm Edwards.
So Smith has some credibility when he says the Bucs' goal isn't to just have a winning season in 2014.
"My original statement was for us to become a relevant team again. And what's relevant?" Smith asked rhetorically. "We want to win all of our home games. We want to put a good product on the field. We want it to be like the old days where teams said. 'Oh, man, we've got to go to Tampa this week. It's tough going down there.' We have the same goal as everyone. It's to win games. To win our division. To win the Super Bowl."
Those may seem like pie-in-the-sky hopes, but Smith has reason to be optimistic. He has turned over half the roster from last year's 4-12 team. Both offensive and defensive lines have been rebuilt and Smith brought his own triggerman from Chicago in quarterback Luke McCown.
As is the case with most Smith teams, the defense will once again be the team's strength. Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David are potentially the Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks of their era, although the comparisons may be unfair given that both those players are in the Hall of Fame.
"We like the team," Smith said. "We like the way they come to work every day. When I talk about the guys, this smile is real. It's believing in the guys. When you come to work, and say do this and they're anxious to do it, how can you not be pumped up?"
Granted, it would be headline news if any coach didn't like his team. But Smith has reason to be optimistic. The Bucs upgraded their talent at nearly every position, so much so that a panel of reporters for NFL.com said they were among the teams that improved the most in the offseason, along with the Jaguars and Redskins.
"I can't say that I have been surprised," Smith said. "Some of the guys I didn't know. But enough about the Gerald McCoys and some of them. I knew Gerald (before I got here). Of course, I knew Josh McCown, I knew how some of those guys would lead once we put the group together. Some of the players I didn't know we got in free agency. Evan (Evan) Dietrich-Smith. I knew he was a good football player; I didn't know he was that type of leader. Anthony Collins. You can go right down the line."
As was the case for Smith in Chicago, a big key will be whether he got the quarterback and the offensive coordinator right. Career backup McCown comes from the Bears and at age 35, he must master the offense under former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who has never coached in the NFL.
Players report July 24
First practice: July 25
Camp ends: August 14
--Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps is an intriguing player for the Bucs. Not only is he arguably the fastest man in the NFL, he was a productive football player at Florida.
This year, Demps seems committed to training exclusively for football. And that could be a big problem for opposing defenses.
"I wanted to talk to him about where his commitment was," Smith said. "Do you want to win another Olympic medal or do you want to be a good football player? And he let me know he was totally committed to being the best football player he can be. He's been here every day and I saw a lot good things from him.
"He's is definitely the fastest guy in the NFL and you see that quickness," said Smith. "We have to find a way to use that speed. There are some things you can do with a guy like that, whether it be with returns or (other things). It's on us now to find some ways to use him."
--Bucs first-time general manager Jason Licht has worked for some pretty good football minds in his 18-year career as an NFL scout and front-office executive. The list includes the Dolphins' Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson, the Panthers' George Seifert, the Patriots' Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli, the Eagles' Andy Reid and the Cardinals' Bruce Arians.
--Team strength: Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
McCoy sets the tone for the defensive line - the whole defense for that matter. For the first time in his career, he has an edge rusher in Bengals free agent Michael Johnson to divert the double teams. Inside, there is an even bigger impact in defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who brings the Seahawks mentality with him. Adrian Clayborn should thrive at left defensive end, especially with his hand in the dirt. Clayborn's motor is well known. The Bucs are hoping to resurrect the career of Da'Quan Bowers and new defensive line coach Joe Cullen should help.
--Breakout player: Cornerback Johnthan Banks.
The Bucs' second-round pick in 2013 is a perfect fit for Smith's defense. He is long and has excellent ball skills. In the Tampa 2, Banks will be an effective zone player and by facing the quarterback, he will have a better chance at breaking on the ball and getting interceptions, which would seem to be his strength. Pro-Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner is on the other side, meaning Banks will get lots of chances.
--Fantasy football reality check: Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Seferian-Jenkins could start the season third on the depth chart at tight end. Despite being a second-round pick, he missed all of the offseason workouts. But the one area he can help immediately is in the red zone. At 6-foot-5 and being a former basketball player, he can go get it.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Josh McCown. Backups - Mike Glennon, Mike Kafka.
Smith reached back into his past to select a quarterback - Bears free agent Josh McCown, who threw for 13 touchdowns with just one interception in five starts last season. McCown was immediately named the starter over Mike Glennon, who has been dubbed the Bucs' quarterback of the future. At 35, and having been a career backup, the Bucs are hoping McCown can become the late bloomer that Rich Gannon was for the Raiders. At the very least, he has built up credibility among teammates. A bigger question might be whether he is a good fit for coordinator Jeff Tedford's offense.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Doug Martin. Backups - Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Jeff Demps, FB Lonnie Pryor.
Martin suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder and was placed on injured reserve after seven games last season. But his rookie year was no fluke. He rushed for more than 1,400 yards and produced nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage. That said, Smith has landed a bigger back in Sims, who reminds him of Bears RB Matt Forte. Sims caught more than 200 passes during his college career. Both Rainey and James rushed for more than 500 yards last season and will be valuable backups in a crowded backfield.
TIGHT END: Starters - Tim Wright. Backups - Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker.
Wright, a converted wide receiver from Rutgers, burst onto the scene as a rookie last season, catching more than 50 passes and five touchdowns. He is a matchup problem for opposing defenses. At 6-foot-5, Jenkins will provide McCown with another big target. A former basketball player like wide receiver Mike Evans, he is one of the 'Dunk-a-neers,' as general manager Jason Licht has dubbed them. But Seferian-Jenkins missed nearly all of the offseason workouts, so his development as a rookie may be slowed. He nonetheless provides a weapon in the red zone. Stocker is coming off season-ending injuries the past two years and has not developed much as an in-line blocker. Myers, a free agent, is the most accomplished tight end among the group, having been featured by the Raiders and Giants.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans. Backups - Louis Murphy, Chris Owusu, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page.
Jackson and Evans are similar to what McCown had in Chicago with wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Both are tall, explosive, and able to come down with the 50-percent balls that are so critical in the NFL. Murphy had an outstanding offseason and has the inside track on winning the job at slot receiver. Owusu, one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets at Stanford, provides rare 4.4 speed and a player to stretch the field.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Anthony Collins, LG Carl Nicks, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, RG Kadeem Edwards, RT Demar Dotson. Backups - G Patrick Omameh, G Oneil Cousins, T Kevin Pamphile.
The Bucs were last in the NFL in total offense last season, so Smith and new general manager Jason Licht believed an overhaul was necessary. They began by cleaning house on an overpriced, unproductive offensive line. Tackle Donald Penn and guard David Joseph were released. Center Jeremy Zuttah was traded. In their place, the Bucs signed Bengals free agent tackle Collins and Packers center Dietrich-Smith. The only returners are Dotson and Nicks, who has played nine games in two years. Nicks did not participate in the offseason but vows to be ready to go by training camp.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDT Adrian Clayborn, NT Clinton McDonald, UT Gerald McCoy, RDE Michael Johnson.
McCoy, the two-time All Pro, is the engine that makes the Bucs' defensive line go. He had 9.5 sacks last season and is arguably the best defensive tackle in the NFL. In head coach Lovie Smith's Tampa 2, he finally gets to play the three-technique the way he had hoped to. McCoy is on his fifth defensive line coach in as many years. He will be helped by an increase in talent around him. Johnson had 12.5 sacks two years ago for the Bengals and is a long and a natural pass rusher the likes of which the Bucs have not seen since Simeon Rice. McDonald had 5.5 sacks as part of that vaunted Seattle rotation of defensive linemen that resulted in a Super Bowl win for the Seahawks. Clayborn moves from the right to the left side and coaches believe he will thrive in Smith's system where he will have his hand back in the dirt.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Jonathaan Casillas, MLB Mason Foster, WLB Lavonte David. Backups --
David's career has exploded and the comparisons at this point in his career to Derrick Brooks are unfair, but understandable. He has led the Bucs in tackles the past two seasons and is the de facto leader of the defense. The Bucs would like for Foster to take over the play-calling duties from David, which would be good for both players. Casillas re-signed with the Bucs in the offseason and is effective when healthy.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Alterraun Verner, RCB Johnthan Banks, SS Dashon Goldson, FS Mark Barron. Backups -- S Keith Tandy, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Mike Jenkins, CB D.J. Moore, CB Danny Gorrer.
The Bucs bid farewell to Darrelle Revis after one season, despite having nursed him from a torn ACL and giving him a chance to make the Pro Bowl, to say nothing of the $16 million salary. By cutting ties with Revis, it enabled the Bucs defensive backs to grow into new roles. Verner is a ball-hawking corner who is actually younger than Banks. The Bucs are counting on Barron and Goldson to set the tone for the defense in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Connor Barth, P Michael Koenen, LS Jeremy Cain, KOR Jeff Demps, PR Eric Page.
Barth missed all of 2013 after suffering a torn Achilles while playing in a charity basketball game a week before training camp. Then Lawrence Tynes was infected with MRSA following a procedure on an in-grown toenail. Barth says his leg may have actually benefitted from the rest and has been booting 61-yard field goals. A career 83 percent field-goal kicker is a nice weapon to have when you are likely to play a lot of low-scoring games. Koenen had a net average of 38.3 yards and only pinned a career low 21.8 percent inside the 20-yard line. His ability to kick off remains an added bonus. Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps has devoted his training to football and will easily be the fastest man in the NFL. He should serve as the Bucs' primary kickoff returner. Receiver Eric Page will return punts again this year.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--TE Kyle Adams (not tendered as RFA).
--CB Michael Adams (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Jacob Cutrera (not tendered as UFA).
--LS Andrew Economos (not tendered as UFA).
--DT Gary Gibson (not tendered as UFA).
--FB Spencer Larsen (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Brian Leonard (not tendered as UFA).
--K Rian Lindell (not tendered as UFA).
--DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--CB Deveron Carr (tendered at $495,000).
--WR Eric Page (tendered at $495,000).
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Mike Evans (1/7): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (2/38): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Charles Sims (3/69): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Kadeem Edwards (5/143): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Kevin Pamphile (5/149): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Robert Herron (6/185): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Jonathan Casillas: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Danny Gorrer: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Jamon Meredith: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Bobby Rainey: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--T Anthony Collins: UFA Bengals; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--G/T Oneil Cousins: UFA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--C Evan Dietrich-Smith: UFA Packers; $14.2M/4 yrs.
--LB Dane Fletcher: UFA Patriots; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Lavelle Hawkins: UFA Chargers; terms unknown.
--CB Mike Jenkins: UFA Raiders; $1.5M/1 yr.
--DE Michael Johnson: UFA Bengals; $43.75M/5 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--QB Mike Kafka: FA; $1.23M/2 yrs.
--QB Josh McCown: UFA Bears; $10M/2 yrs.
--DT Clinton McDonald: UFA Seahawks; $12M/4 yrs.
--WR Louis Murphy: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--TE Brandon Myers: UFA Giants; $4M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.
--CB Quinton Pointer: Not tendered as ERFA by Rams; terms unknown.
--QB Alex Tanney: FA Browns; terms unknown.
--CB Alterraun Verner: UFA Titans; $26.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.
--S Major Wright: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Nate Byham: Not tendered as UFA/Patriots; terms unknown.
--OL Gabe Carimi (released).
--TE Tom Crabtree (released).
--CB Anthony Gaitor (released).
--LB Adam Hayward: UFA Redskins; terms unknown.
--G Davin Joseph (released).
--DT Derek Landri (released).
--C Ted Larsen: UFA Cardinals; $2.6M/2 yrs, $470,000 SB.
--FB Erik Lorig: UFA Saints; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Steve Maneri (released).
--QB Dan Orlovsky: UFA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Donald Penn (released).
--CB Darrelle Revis (released).
--RB Michael Smith (released).
--WR Tiquan Underwood: UFA Panthers; terms unknown.
--LB Dekoda Watson: UFA Jaguars; terms unknown.
--WR Mike Williams (traded Bills).
--C/G Jeremy Zuttah (traded Ravens).
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Lovie Smith
- Lavonte David