TAMPA — It’s rare that a football season plays out the way a coach hopes or expects. Injuries always get in the way, forcing coaches to dig deep into the roster and sometimes beyond for replacements.
Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith knows the drill. A head coach with the Bears for nine years before coming to Tampa in January, he’s grown accustomed to adjusting depth charts and lineups on the fly.
That’s why he doesn’t mind that projected starting safety Dashon Goldson, who had surgery to repair an ankle problem in February, continued to watch offseason workouts from the sideline last week.
While Goldson has been limited to taking mental reps, projected reserves such as Major Wright, Keith Tandy and Kelcie McCray have been getting all the physical reps. And Smith said they are going to need them.
“Even in good years, we’ve gone down to our third safety,” Smith said. “And most years, our fourth safety has had to start at some point. So (Goldson’s injury) is giving the other guys (a chance) to get some valuable reps.”
So far, Smith likes what he’s seen of those “other guys.” He knew what he had in Wright, who went from backup to starter while playing for Smith in Chicago for three years.
But projected starter Mark Barron and reserves Tandy and McCray have impressed Smith in a way that has him raving about one of the most important position groups in his defense.
“It’s critical for us to have great safety play,” Smith said. “It’s been like that since the beginning of time, and I’d say we’re as good as anybody around at the safety position.
“I know Dashon Goldson hasn’t (practiced), but Barron is back out there (after missing time earlier in the offseason) and they are perfect matches for what we’re going to do.
“At the same time, Major Wright has started a lot of games in this league and played good football when we’ve been together. And Keith Tandy also (has looked good). We have a good group.’’
Smith has said since his first day on the job that 2014 will not be a rebuilding year. He believes the Bucs can and must win now. From the top of the roster to the bottom, his players appear to be buying into the message.
Center Evan Dietrich-Smith noted that attendance at voluntary offseason workouts has been exceptional.
“It isn’t just one guy showing up every day,’’ Dietrich-Smith said. “It’s been everybody showing up every day and really taking a hold of this thing and trying to achieve what Lovie’s been telling us, which is that it’s not going to be a year of processing. We can win now and we have the people to do so.”
They certainly seem to have that on defense, where defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (four), linebacker Lavonte David (five) and defensive end Michael Johnson (83) are among the top 101 players in the league, according to a list released last week by ProFootballFocus.
Dietrich-Smith, formerly the center for the Packers, has lined up across a lot of good defenses in recent years. He believes McCoy, David and Johnson are the best players on one of the best defenses the league.
“It’s a top-10 defense,” he said.
Seeing is believing
The decision to sign quarterback Alex Tanney might have seemed like a bit of a publicity stunt. After all, the Monmouth College product is best known for the trick-shot video he put together while in college a couple years ago.
The Bucs, though, believe Tanney has the ability to earn an NFL roster spot, and there’s more behind that belief than the NCAA record Tanney set by throwing 157 career touchdown passes.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht saw first-hand last year what Tanney can do. The occasion was a Week 2 preseason game between Dallas and Arizona, for whom Licht was vice president of player personnel.
Tanney, who went undrafted the year before, went into the game in the second half and led Dallas to its only score by completing 14 of 19 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in a 12-7 Cardinals victory.