TAMPA — It might not be readily apparent to all, but the Buccaneers believe their roster has enough talent at running back, linebacker and defensive back to consider those areas positions of strength.
Coach Lovie Smith believes the Bucs are strong in at least one other area, as well, and that area could surprise you.
Though their talent doesn’t appear to match up to what their division rivals have, particularly at the top, quarterback is a spot where Smith believes the Bucs are in pretty good shape.
“I like the strength of the position,’’ Smith said last week at the NFL owners meetings.
Smith might stand alone with his opinion. At the very least, he figures to be in the minority. But he bases his judgment on the faith he has not only in projected starter Josh McCown but in projected backup Mike Glennon.
“I have evaluated Josh quite a bit, and (he is) a 34-year-old guy who doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his body and he’s a very good athlete,’’ Smith said. “He won’t get the credit for being the athlete that he is.
“I mean, he brings mobility to the position. And he makes good decisions. So when we went looking for a quarterback, I (said), ‘Who is available that I think can help us win football games,’ and what Josh displayed last year was that.’’
McCown won three of the five starts he made as a fill-in for an injured Jay Cutler with the Bears last year. Along the way, he produced a glowing 109.0 passer rating while throwing 13 touchdown passes and one interception.
If McCown can replicate that performance over a longer stretch with the Bucs in 2014, Smith won’t be the only one who considers the team’s quarterback play a strong point.
But McCown isn’t the only reason Smith believes the Bucs are strong at QB.
Citing his strong arm, his ability to throw the ball accurately and his performance a year ago, Smith likes what he sees in Glennon, too.
“What we like is how he came in as a rookie in a tough situation and stayed focused,’’ Smith said. “Quarterbacks have to do that. They have to put a lot of things out (of their mind) and just perform and do their job.
“And that’s what Mike did. I thought he made good decisions with the ball, he threw the ball accurately, and he didn’t throw a lot of interceptions. All those things are positives.’’
Middle linebacker Mason Foster has had two sacks in each of his three seasons with the Bucs, but that number will probably start to increase now that he’ll be working in Smith’s defensive scheme.
The reason is that, much like he did with Brian Urlacher, Smith will ask Foster to blitz more than he has in the past.
“He will blitz,’’ Smith said of Foster. “The position will blitz. Brian Urlacher will tell you that. You look at Brian’s numbers and you’ll see he has quite a few sacks.’’
Urlacher recorded 41.5 sacks during his 13-year career. That’s an average of three per season, but he also had three seasons under Smith when he recorded more than four sacks.
Of course, blitzing is not all Foster will be asked to do. He will also have to cover receivers down the middle. That’s a job Foster has struggled with, but Smith believes Foster is up to the task.
“There’s no doubt he can do it,’’ Smith said. “I’m convinced he can. And that isn’t as hard as you might think. The times we ask that of him, he’s protected with guys on the outside, (safeties) behind him. So blitz, cover, all those are things we believe Mason can do.’’
The Bucs have three of the first 69 picks in this year’s draft, and Smith is certain they will pick an impact player with each one. The player’s impact, though, might not be felt immediately, Smith said.
“The (player we get with the) seventh pick, if we stay there, he’d better be (an impact player),’’ he said. “But I’m not saying (he has to be an impact player) right away. Let’s make that clear. Once the college draft ends, from the first day with us, he’ll blend right in. But he doesn’t have to be in the starting lineup right away. We’ll start the process, and in time we’ll see that player helping us quite a bit.’’