TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Josh McCown expects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be better this season. He’s just reluctant to speculate how much.
The 35-year-old quarterback is beginning his 13th NFL training camp, though it’s his first as a team’s projected starter since he was with the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.
The Bucs signed the career backup, who’s coming off the best season of his career, in March and new coach Lovie Smith is counting on him to provide steady leadership for a mostly young offense that ranked 30th in scoring and dead last in passing and total yardage en route to a 4-12 finish a year ago.
”No bold predictions. We’re just going to go out and play good football and see where that leads us,” McCown said. ”But I believe if we do the things we’re asked to do, what the coaches have laid out, I think we’ll look up at the end of the year and find ourselves in a favorable position. That’s all we can do right now.”
The Bucs haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, and it’s been 12 years since they last won a postseason game.
Smith, who led the Chicago three division titles, two NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearances during a successful nine-year run that ended after the 2012 season, was hired to change that trend.
McCown is confident he’s the right quarterback to help Smith get the franchise turned around, even though it’s been a decade since a team entered a season with him atop the depth chart.
He started 13 of 14 games he played with the Cardinals in 2004. He’s made 22 starts total since that season, including five while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler with Chicago in 2013.
The Bears won three of those games. But what really caught the attention of Smith, who spent a one-year hiatus from coaching studying film and observing from afar, was the quarterback threw for 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
The coach is not concerned that it has been so long since McCown has been first on a depth chart.
”I can only talk as the head football coach. I know Josh McCown knows how I feel about him. I trust his leadership,” Smith said. ”You want your quarterback to be able to make great decisions, to know when to throw the football, when to pull it down … different things like that. He can do all those things.”
Smith and first-year general manager Jason Licht overhauled the offensive line in free agency, and the Bucs used their entire draft on offensive players for the first time in franchise history.
Receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin are talented holdovers on offense from a year ago. The team’s first three draft picks – receiver Mike Evans, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims – also figure to get an opportunity to contribute right away in a system installed by Jeff Tedford, the former California head coach hired as offensive coordinator .
McCown said there’s as a good a vibe in the locker room as any he’s been around entering camp in the past.
”It’s right up there at the top, just because of everything that we’ve done through the offseason, and where the focus is, where we’re headed,” the quarterback said, adding that he has a good feeling about the makeup of the roster and how things will come together over the next few weeks.
”Every NFL team feels this way right now … but adversity is coming. It just does,” McCown said. ”It does for every team in the league every year, and it’s how you handle that that really is the measure of your team. I feel we have guys that can handle those bumps and really stick together, and that’s the key.”
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