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Manziel may be on radar for Lovie Smith, Bucs

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies rolls out and looks downfield to pass during the the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Texas A&M Aggies rolls out and looks downfield to pass during the the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

TAMPA

Lovie Smith hit the pause button. Not just on life during his year away from football, but on the games he watched on television during fall weekends.

"I really enjoyed the time being a fan, watching our game, studying our game. Looking at different coaches," Smith said. "And then, everything I believe in, my core values and how I run a football team.

"I had a chance to analyze all of that, and the conclusion I came to is we're not going to make a lot of drastic changes on how I believe you treat people and how you win football games. But there are some things that we will do differently, and I guess you'll have to wait until we start playing games to see that."

The new Bucs coach's philosophy on how to win hasn't changed. He is a defensive coach. He believes in getting pressure on the quarterback with four down linemen, forcing turnovers, protecting the football with a strong running game, playing great special teams.

But offensively, particularly in evaluating the quarterback position, his beliefs are evolving.

Smith sees the trend toward mobile, athletic quarterbacks who are accurate passers. The Seahawks' Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl in his second year. The Redskins' Robert Griffin III won the NFC East in his first.

It's no secret the Bucs plan to draft a quarterback. The only question is whether they will take one in the first round, particularly with the No. 7 overall pick. Last week, the team received visits from Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Eastern Illinois Jimmy Garoppolo and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Fresno State's Derek Carr will arrive Tuesday, and there will be more.

The most intriguing possibility is Manziel. Smith attended his workout at Texas A&M, met with him at the NFL combine and has been quick to praise the Heisman Trophy winner.

"I had time to watch quite a few games, and I had a chance to watch him — a lot. So you add all that up," Smith said.

"As far as how he'll take his game to the NFL level? I think most outstanding players in college, a lot of them, end up being a very good football player in the NFL. Football really is football. I know he's not your typical, prototype quarterback who drops back into the pocket, but there are a lot of quarterbacks doing well in the league that aren't your prototypical quarterback."

Could Smith's interest in Manziel be a smoke screen to attract an opportunity to trade down and acquire more picks? Perhaps, but it appears genuine.

What might determine Manziel's success in the NFL is whether a team is willing to tailor its offensive scheme around him. Would Manziel be a fit in the system under offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford? Yes, as would several other quarterbacks in the draft.

Tedford sprays the football around with a short passing game, using play-action when driving passes downfield. He utilizes plenty of bootlegs and waggles in his offense, placing a premium on mobility and creating opportunities for quarterbacks to pick up first downs with their feet. Manziel checks a lot of those boxes, but so do Carr and Garoppolo, who could be available later in the first round if the Bucs trade down.

The team already has Josh McCown and Mike Glennon on its roster. In fact, its top needs are at receiver, offensive guard and linebacker.

GM Jason Licht insists the team is prepared to take the best available player, regardless of position. The consensus top five are, in some order, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Some might include Aggies receiver Mike Evans or Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald on that list.

If a quarterback slips into that mix, such as Manziel or UCF's Blake Bortles, it would be hard for the Bucs to pass up one of those other position players pushed down to them.

On the other hand, if Manziel is still around at No. 7, you wonder if Smith will reflect on what he saw while watching football in his basement on fall Saturdays and pull the trigger.

Manziel may be on radar for Lovie Smith, Bucs 04/12/14 [Last modified: Saturday, April 12, 2014 11:23pm]

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