TAMPA — The Bucs' improved depth at cornerback has shown up at minicamp this week with second-year pro Rashaan Melvin getting a pair of interceptions, including one during a two-minute drill at the end of practice Wednesday.
"I guess if you're on the defensive side of the ball, you feel pretty good about how we finished," coach Lovie Smith said. "The offensive side, of course, can't turn the ball over in those situations."
Melvin, a 6-foot-2 corner from Northern Illinois, signed after going undrafted last year, then spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He is battling veteran Danny Gorrer (who had a strong practice Tuesday) and others for backup spots.
"Every day, it seems we talk about one of the corners," Smith said. "Guys are stripping the ball right up until the end. It's about taking the ball away. To a man, they'll talk to you about that. As the head football coach of our defense, that's a great job to finish a game off like that."
The team wraps up its three-day minicamp today with six weeks until it reconvenes for training camp July 25. Smith said finishing workouts with positive momentum is a key for him and his players.
"The way we leave, how we finish right now, says so much," he said. "If we don't work harder than every team in the league, you stay the same: 4-12. It's not good enough for us. We need to do a lot more, and our guys have done that and are trying to do better."
LEADER EMERges: WR Chris Owusu said a big part of his confidence in the offense comes from the leadership he has seen from veteran QB Josh McCown, something he believes the offense has needed.
"You have a great leader in Josh McCown," Owusu said. "He's always in the receiving meeting room, coming in to check on us, making sure we're on the right page. I think that's something we were missing in the past. To see him so excited to come early on days you don't have to come early, to see him be the last one to leave, that's what's helping this offense flow."
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: Asked about ESPN analyst Herm Edwards' pick of a Bucs-Steelers Super Bowl, Smith smiled at the mention of the former Bucs assistant.
"My friend Herm?" he asked with a smile.
"If Herman Edwards says it, he's not just throwing out stuff without having something to back it up."
Smith said he has maintained the highest expectations for his team's improvement, arguing to aim for less isn't fair to his players.
"It's the only way to have it. I'm not going into meetings saying, 'Hey, guys, we were 4-12 last year. If we get to 5-11, we've made improvement,' " he said. "We talk about winning the division, making Raymond James Stadium a place people don't want to come to play in.
"We realize everybody is saying the same thing, but we haven't lost a game together. There's reason for optimism when you come here and work hard every day."
THIS AND THAT: Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy attended for the second week in a row, talking to players and watching with son Eric, a receiver who is transferring from Oregon to USF for his final college season. … Of six tryout players working out this week, former Panthers WR David Gettis, who had 37 catches as a rookie in 2010, has turned heads with a few nice catches. … K Connor Barth and K Pat Murray looked sharp, matching each other on kicks from increasingly longer distances.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]