Coach Lovie Smith spreads QB love; to see Johnny Manziel Thursday

Published March 27, 2014

ORLANDO — At 34 and a career backup, the Bucs' Josh McCown could be seen by some as a bridge quarterback. But is he a bridge to nowhere? Or at the least, to nobody in particular?

New coach Lovie Smith looked at the performance of Mike Glennon as a rookie last year and decided the Bucs would be better off with McCown, the Bears' No. 2 who had his career's best five-game stretch as a starter last season, going 3-2 with 13 touchdown passes and one interception.

But Smith doesn't see McCown, who signed a two-year, free agent deal this month, as a typical battle-worn, 30-something quarterback.

"I've had a chance to evaluate Josh quite a bit," Smith said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. "You look at the 34-year-old guy that's been a backup for a long period of time, (McCown) doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body. He's a very good athlete. … He brings mobility to the position. Makes good decisions.

"As I looked it, I said, 'Okay, who's available that I think can help us win football games?' What Josh displayed last year was that. … There are a couple other quarterbacks in their 30s that are doing a pretty good job right now. So I don't think you're ready to be put out to pasture yet when you get into your 30s. I feel pretty good, confident, of the type of play we're going to get from him."

But just as Smith finished gushing about McCown — and throwing a bouquet or two at Glennon — he announced that he would be in College Station, Texas, today for Johnny Manziel's pro-day workout.

With Texas A&M's Manziel, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State's Derek Carr all possible first-round selections, Smith said the Bucs are in a great spot to take a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick in May's draft.

"I guess if there's something positive about being a new staff coming in it's that you get an early pick to be able to add a good player," he said. "And I'm just going to make a statement: As I talk about Mike and I talk about Josh, we have all positions on the table. … We have a lot of options."

During his year hiatus from NFL coaching after being fired by the Bears following the 2012 season, Smith said he spent a lot of fall Saturdays watching Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner as a redshirt freshman.

"To be able to talk to people that you trust that know each player, you use every tool you can to make an evaluation, not just on (Manziel) but all players," Smith said. "I want to see how he handles a different environment. He's played in front of big crowds, but he hasn't had to perform on one day like (pro day). … This is a big day for him coming up."

Smith and Bucs general manager Jason Licht attended Bortles' pro day last week and saw "a guy with a lot of potential, poise … who has a bright future ahead of him," Smith said.

Though the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Bortles has prototypical NFL size and does his best work from the pocket, Manziel — a few hairs below 6 feet and weighing 209 pounds — produces his most amazing feats afoot.

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Smith seemed optimistic about Manziel's ability to translate his success to the next level.

"I think there are mixed opinions on just about every player," Smith said. "I think the most outstanding players in college, a lot of them, end up being very good football players in the NFL.

"Football really is football. I know (Manziel is) not your typical prototype quarterback, drop back into the pocket, but there are a lot of quarterbacks doing very well in the league that aren't your prototypical quarterback."