TAMPA — Late Friday afternoon, for the first time in 10 years, since he was with the Arizona Cardinals, four whole NFL teams ago, Josh McCown stepped onto a field for training camp as an undisputed starter, The Man at last.
He was chased from the field in nine minutes, with his Bucs teammates, then run off for good after just 41 more minutes of practice to start Lovie Smith's first training camp as Bucs head coach. Lightning on a summer day in Florida. Who could have seen that coming?
Josh McCown had to wait a little longer.
“I was just glad to be out there,” he said.
The lightning could have been expected. So, too, the news that the Bucs and offensive lineman Carl Nicks have parted ways, that Nicks, in his own words, has decided to “step away from the game.” Gingerly, no doubt.
It's a shame. Carl Nicks was a premier people mover when he came to the Bucs for big money. Now he's a broken body and no one is taking the blame publicly. The Bucs will look to fill a hole. It's not about who isn't here. It's about who is.
Josh McCown is here and he'd better bring it. You can talk about Lovie's new defense and special teams. When it comes to remaking an offense that was dead last in total offense and 30th in 2013, it flows from Lovie's hand-picked starting quarterback.
We can talk all we want about how those years on the sidelines, watching, waiting, make McCown a young 35, 35 going on 28, or is it 21, or did he just come back from senior prom?
It's about what McCown does here and now. If he follows through as he did last season with the Bears, 13 TD passes, one pick, completion after completion, it could lift the Bucs up. If he doesn't, it's a downward spiral.
Back to Friday, and the starter.
“Oh, yeah, it's always a good feeling to know where you stand,” McCown said. “At the same time, you have to keep your edge. That's the main thing. You want to always have an edge. You try to find that in different ways, competing with the guy next to you or competing with yourself. There's definitely not a sense of complacency.”
He added, “There's a standard of the way that we want to play, and at quarterback you have a large impact on that. The way the edge is coming is different, but there's an edge. Sometimes it's just fighting for a job, sometimes it's just a standard of performance.”
Here's his shot. The Bucs don't need a Drew Brees. Lovie Smith would settle for a Trent Dilfer, a Brad Johnson. The man went to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback.
“It has to help that the people in charge have confidence in him,” Smith said. “I can only talk as a head football coach. I know Josh McCown knows how I feel about him, that I trust his leadership. A lot of time we talk about Josh, it's just he's a great leader. He's a good football player. You want your QB to be able to make good decisions, to know when to throw the ball, when to pull it down. We'll be doing some no huddle and things like that. He can do all those things.”
Can McCown do what he did last season?
Can lightning strike twice?
It did Friday, for real. McCown smiled.
“We hit a few plays,” he said. “We got out there. More than anything, we got rid of the whatever you want to call it, the nerves, the first time being out there.”
He knows there are expectations, doubters.
“I understand that,” McCown said. “But as much as people expect, as a competitor, as a pro, you expect more from yourself. That's typical of people who make it to this level. There are expectations I have. They contribute to the edge you want as a starting quarterback.”
That he is.