As he dreams and schemes of what his Bucs could be someday, the guess is new coach Lovie Smith closes his eyes and pictures way down the road.
All the way to Seattle.
Seattle's football team — the Seahawks — is headed to the Super Bowl.
They got there by playing smothering, intimidating, teeth-rattling defense. They got there by running the football and turning the field into a mosh pit. They got there by bowling over anyone who dared get in their way then ridiculing them for even trying.
And that's just what Smith has in mind for the Bucs.
Defense. Defense. A little offense. And more defense. If Smith is putting together a blueprint for a winner in Tampa Bay, he's making copies of what the Seahawks have drawn in Seattle.
The only problem? Tampa Bay has the wrong North Carolina State quarterback.
Even if you play that swarming defense that beats teams into submission and even if you can run the football with some consistency and success, you still need a quarterback to make eight or 10 plays a game.
The Seahawks' Russell Wilson, who started his college career at N.C. State, does just that. The Bucs' Mike Glennon, who ended his college career at N.C. State, has yet to show that capability.
Which is why the Bucs need to make a move in the draft to assure itself of a big-time player-maker, someone like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, whose stock seems to be rising daily.
But let's get back to this idea of the Bucs trying to become the Seahawks of the East.
There are plenty of similarities already.
Pete Carroll is Seattle's defense-first head coach, just like Smith here in Tampa Bay.
At his very first news conference with the Bucs, Smith said, "If you play great defense, you can win eight games.''
The Seahawks are led by an outstanding defensive backfield, starring loud-mouthed, all-world cornerback Richard Sherman. He just might be the best cover corner in the NFL. If he isn't, it's because he is No. 2 behind Darrelle Revis, who leads Tampa Bay's solid and improving secondary.
Seattle's pass rush is way better than Tampa Bay's, but the Bucs have All-Pros in tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David and likely will be on the lookout for a pass rusher in free agency or the draft.
The Seahawks were first in takeaways, the Bucs were tied for second. The Seahawks were tops in turnover ratio. The Bucs were fifth.
Offensively, the Seahawks rely on bruising back Marshawn Lynch, who, by the way, played for new Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Cal. The Bucs have their own workhorse in Doug Martin, who hopes for a healthy and productive return in 2014.
The Seahawks receivers are good. Not great. Just good. You could say the same about the Bucs when Mike Williams is healthy enough to line up opposite top target Vincent Jackson.
In so many areas, the Bucs look like Seahawks Lite. It tastes the same as regular Seahawks, except with fewer victories.
The Bucs will continue to build that defense-first foundation under Smith. They still have a ways to go. The Seahawks, after all, had the NFL's top-ranked defense in 2013. The Bucs were middle of the pack — 17th in the 32-team league.
Smith's quick-fix plan to build around defense isn't a bad idea. The Bucs defense is closer to being elite than the offense, and defense still matters in the NFL. Seattle is the 16th team to lead the NFL in defense and reach the Super Bowl. Of the previous 15, 12 have gone on to win it all.
But we're talking elite defense, special defenses. We're talking about some of the best defenses of all time.
Certainly, there's nothing wrong with wanting to have the best defense in football, but, in today's game, you need a quarterback, too.
Look at the final eight teams in the playoffs. Look at their quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick and Wilson. Not a flop in the bunch. All are what you would call franchise quarterbacks.
Even the Seahawks' league-best defense surrendered 17 points Sunday, meaning their offense had to put together five scoring drives — two touchdowns and three field goals — and still needed a last-minute defensive stop just to survive the NFC title game.
That's where the quarterback comes in. Wilson hasn't been spectacular this season. Only three times in 18 games did he complete as many as 20 passes. Only twice did he throw for 300 yards. But he protected the football, while making just enough plays with his feet and arm to lead the Seahawks to a 15-3 record, including 2-0 in these playoffs.
Defensively, the Bucs are not far from being a playoff team. They just need a pass rusher, maybe another linebacker. Offensively, they have holes, most notably at quarterback.
But Smith has a plan and it resembles the Seahawks.
Maybe someday, with a few more players, the results will look the same, too.