TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Lovie Smith is well aware of Tampa Bay’s shaky track record in the NFL draft, as well as the role recent failures have played in the Buccaneers missing the playoffs the past six seasons.
The franchise’s third coach in four years has spent the last two months overhauling the roster through free agency. Now, Smith and first-year general manager Jason Licht are counting on filling more holes with an infusion of young talent.
Barring a last-minute trade to move up or down in the selection process, the Bucs have six picks in this week’s draft, beginning with No. 7 overall.
Needs include wide receiver, offensive line, and possibly targeting the club’s quarterback of the future. As expected, Smith and Licht have given little indication of how they may be leaning.
”I think if we had to play tomorrow, we could line up a pretty competitive team at every position, but you’re always trying to upgrade,” Smith said. ”There are some positions we would like to upgrade, but I’ll be saying that every year, and that’s the way you should always be thinking.”
The Bucs have signed career backup Josh McCown to be their starting quarterback. They also acquired six other projected new starters in free agency: defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, tackle Anthony Collins, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and tight end Brandon Myers.
To ensure long-term success, though, Smith and Licht are adamant they have to build through the draft.
The Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, have only one player remaining on the roster who was drafted in 2009 or 2010 – the first two springs of the reclamation project the team launched under former GM Mark Dominik and ex-coach Raheem Morris.
It helps that it’s two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in 2010. But an inability to nurture other young prospects into productive pros ultimately led to the demise of Dominik and the two coaches he worked with: Morris and Greg Schiano, who was dismissed in January after just two seasons.
”Is it hard to make up, and is it a hindrance? That’s probably one of the reasons why Jason and I are both here right now,” Smith said of failed drafts in general.
”If you have to have one guy remaining you would like for it to be Gerald, of course,” Smith added. ”Our plan is for us to do better on the draft and make that our foundation. I feel like we’ll do that.”
Five things to remember as Smith and Licht continue to put their stamp on the Bucs:
QB? MAYBE: While the consensus is Tampa Bay has a pressing need is for a speedy receiver to play opposite Vincent Jackson, the Bucs lack a clear-cut quarterback of the future. McCown is 34. And, there’s no indication Smith and Licht consider second-year pro Mike Glennon the long-term solution. So if Johnny Manziel is available at No. 7, would the Bucs balk at selecting a player who would almost certainly bring a circus-like atmosphere to town?
”In terms of fan interest and selling tickets, we are lucky to work for the Glazers, who have hired us both to make us a better football team. … We are just going to make the best football decision, what’s best for our football team,” Licht said. ”I think Lovie and his staff can handle the rest of it.”
IF NOT A QB, THEN WHO?: Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans are among the top-rated receivers . Most people feel Watkins will be long gone by the time the Bucs’ turn comes.
WELL-PREPARED: Smith spent the past year out of football after being fired by the Chicago Bears following the 2012 season. Being off gave him more time than usual to watch college games, thus get a head start on evaluating talent for the draft.
DON’T BE SURPRISED: The Bucs have one pick in every round except the fourth. They may be tempted to trade out of the seventh spot, dropping lower in the first round while adding additional selections in later rounds. That seems more likely than moving up into the top five.
NEED VS. BEST PLAYER: Licht offers this spin on the traditional draft-day strategy: ”Our team needs in September are going to be totally different than they are right now. The player you take you may not think we have a need for him now, but a lot of times you’re thankful you have them when the season starts.”
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL