Smith believes Bucs should be a playoff team in 2016
A month ago the Bucs were 6-6 and in a good position to make a run at earning a post-season spot. But coach Lovie Smith said his team, which lost its last four games, wasn't good enough to finish the job.
Next year, Smith predicted, it will be.
Declaring the Bucs (6-10) have their 'franchise quarterback in place,' with Jameis Winston, Smith said the Bucs should be in the playoffs following the 2016 season.
“I’m saying it should,'' Smith said. "Can it? Yeah. We should.
“I’m going to go back to that. We were 6-6 with a quarter (of the season) to go. That was progress to get in position and things looked pretty bright for us. We weren’t quite ready to take that next step then. But we will make the corrections and the moves we have to make in order to finish, to finish the 2016 season. Yes.''
Smith attributed the late season collapse to losing key players such as receiver Vincent Jackson and rookie Kwon Alexander, who was suspended the final four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Alexander re-joined the team Monday. The Bucs lost to the Saints, Rams, Bears and Panthers to end the year and produced only two turnovers during that stretch.
“He was definitely missed,'' Smith said of Alexander. "I mean, you just look at the offensive side of the ball. It starts with the quarterback. Defensively, it starts with the (middle linebacker). We had a chance to see what Kwon was able to do. Playmaker. He brought energy, toughness. Relentless pursuit to the football. Just a lot. When you don’t have all the foundational pieces established and you lose one of those key pieces, you see the results of it. We didn’t win another game without him out there so I’d say it’s not just Kwon. There were others. We missed Vincent Jackson. We just didn’t play as well as we needed to. But we were definitely missing something without Kwon.''
Smith is 8-24 over two seasons with the Bucs, falling short of his own expectations.
“I don’t think any of us would say we’ve met our expectations,'' Smith said. "We had high hopes when we took over the franchise. We knew you just can’t build a program overnight. You’d like to have a quick fix. That just was not part of the plan. You get to 6-6 in the season, you think maybe we’re further along and we can get it done. But in the end, we weren’t quite there.
“We’re not where we want to be and eventually, it’s a process you’re going to go through. You can’t skip any steps long the way. We haven’t skipped any steps, but we realize in year three, we need to see the results of everything we’ve been doing.''
The optimism starts with Winston, who joined Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as they only rookies to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Winston also played every offensive snap and set a club record with six rushing touchdowns.
“I think if we took a poll in the room and you were starting a franchise, what’s the position you have to get right? In this room, every room around the league, the people would say the quarterback position,'' Smith said. "For all of us right now, I think it’s safe to say we have our quarterback of the future, our franchise quarterback in place. So a lot of the optimism is based around that. I’m going to also jump to the other side and I think that (middle linebacker) position is pretty important, too, with what we do. To get both of those guys at the same time, they’re close, they realize their role right now, too, on our football. Yes, that does give you confidence going forward. Quite a bit.''