TAMPA — At 34, Josh McCown is the oldest of 75 players on the Bucs roster and one of just four 30 or older. So there's a natural leadership that extends beyond his role as starting quarterback.
And as the Bucs have brought in four quarterbacks for visits in the past two weeks to evaluate their merits as high draft picks, McCown has had a chance to meet the young phenoms who could challenge him for playing time this fall.
"They all seem like nice kids. They look so young," McCown said during off-field workouts last week.
"It was cool to say hello to them; just briefly with Johnny (Manziel) and Teddy (Bridgewater) and Jimmy (Garoppolo). Just, 'Hey. How's it going?' and wish them well. It's funny. You look at them, and you think back a few years and remember how fast it can go."
McCown, a third-round pick in 2002, was in the same draft class as David Carr, the No. 1 overall pick by the Texans and whose brother, Derek, also starred at Fresno State and was scheduled to visit One Buc Place last week. McCown appeared in only two games (throwing for 66 yards) as a rookie backup to Jake Plummer on a Cardinals team that went 5-11.
But he remembers how much of a transition there was to make from college to the NFL, just the same.
This is … easily the longest year of your career," McCown said. "From combine to the end of your rookie season is just a long year. You're excited, but it can be draining and very emotional."
McCown has made it clear his approach to the upcoming season won't change if the Bucs use the No. 7 overall pick in the draft on a quarterback. McCown's presence as a reliable veteran — signed to a two-year, $10 million contract — would allow the Bucs to not rush a quarterback into the game until he's ready.
McCown wants to play, of course, but also embraces the mentoring aspect of his job whether it be to second-year pro Mike Glennon or a rookie who might present a greater threat to his playing time. Of the past 16 quarterbacks drafted in the first round, only two — the Titans' Jake Locker in 2011 and Broncos' Tim Tebow in 2010 — started fewer than nine games as rookies.
"That's the most fulfillment that you find in life, whether it's football or anything else … imparting that knowledge to somebody else to make their journey better," McCown said. "That's the key to life in general: What can you do for somebody else?"
Bucs coach Lovie Smith has been outspoken in his praise of McCown not only for his intangibles, but his play for the Bears last season (13 touchdowns, one interception in place of the injured Jay Cutler) and the prospect of more of the same in 2014.
"He won't get the credit for being the athlete that he is. He brings mobility to the position. He makes good decisions," Smith, who coached McCown for two seasons, said at last month's owners meetings in Orlando.
"As I looked at (free agents), I said, 'Who is available that I think can help us win football games?' What Josh displayed last year was that. I know a lot has been said about his leadership, but I'm talking about his play on the football field. I feel pretty good — confident — about the type of play we're going to get from him."
McCown recalls the veteran quarterbacks — Kurt Warner in Arizona and Jon Kitna in Detroit — who taught him as a young pro. He wasn't part of a team that won more than six games until his seventh season but hasn't had a losing record in any of his past five.
"I'm thankful I've been able to stay around this long," he said. "Now it's fun to see a young guy go out and perform well and know that maybe you had a little role in that."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @GregAuman.