TAMPA — He can be that guy. If the Buccaneers really need him to be, quarterback Josh McCown can be that guy extending plays and making plays with his feet. Even at 35, he still has the athleticism to do that.
The proof is on tape.
Go to buccaneers.com. That’s where you’ll find the video of McCown driving the baseline and launching himself into a 360-degree slam dunk during a charity basketball game he played down in Pahokee last spring.
Still not convinced?
Check out the highlights from the Bucs’ 27-14 preseason victory over the Bills, in particular the one in which McCown scrambles out of the pocket, tucks the ball under his arm and runs for 19 yards and a first down.
“He doesn’t look like (he’s 35) at all,’’ Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said Wednesday as he and McCown prepared for their opening-day matchup Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“He’s a guy who’s a lot more athletic than a lot of people give him credit for. He runs well, moves well. He’s one of those guys that we have to set the edges of the defense for because we can’t let him scoot out and run on us.’’
Yes, Josh McCown can be that guy.
But that’s not the guy the Bucs want him to be.
The guy the Bucs want McCown to be is far more conventional, far more cerebral, far more careful. He’s a quarterback who’s more concerned with decision-making than play-making, sort of like Brad Johnson.
Remember him? Back in the day, the Bucs won a Super Bowl behind Johnson. He was a lot like McCown — an underrated athlete whose greatest strength on the football field was knowing when to throw the ball and when not to.
“If you can play as well as Brad Johnson played here or as well as Rex Grossman played in Chicago (in 2006), that’s a different mindset, but you can also win games that way,’’ former Bucs coach Tony Dungy said.
The Bucs plan to win games that way. That’s why they brought McCown in during free agency and why coach Lovie Smith immediately named him his starter — because he has the ability not only to make plays but, most importantly, to make good decisions.
Again, the proof is on tape. It’s a small sample size, only 58 games and 1,337 pass attempt, but McCown will go into his first opening-day start since 2007 with the second-lowest interception rate (.045) in NFL history.
When you break it all down, that’s the guy the Bucs want McCown to be. They want him in the pocket, standing tall and stepping into his throws, delivering the ball on time and on target.
No, it’s not the flashiest approach. Nor is it one that McCown, even at the age of 35, is restricted to. But even McCown realizes it is the best approach if the ultimate goal is to win football games.
“The premium is still on playing effectively, because the best way to move the football, the fastest way to move the football, is to throw it accurately from point A to point B,’’ he said.
“There’s no question that athleticism, with any quarterback, is an added bonus. But it can’t be the only thing, because if you look at the guys that are playing at a high level in this league right now, they’re doing it from the pocket.
“I’m talking obviously about the Bradys (Tom) and the Mannings (Peyton and Eli). Those are the quarterbacks who you really want to model your game after, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.’’
No one will ever confuse McCown with Brady or one of the Manning brothers.
But they do share an approach to playing their position, even if McCown always has had the ability to be something different than the others.
Go back to his rookie year. McCown ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and posted a 38.5-inch vertical leap and 120-inch broad jump at the scouting combine that year to lead all quarterbacks in all three categories.
In the past five years, only a handful of quarterbacks have topped any of those marks during their combine workouts and only one (Robert Griffin III) has beaten all three of them.
Over the same course of time, McCown is sure that he has lost some of that foot speed and leaping ability. If he has, though, he can’t detect it from what he feels on the football field or sees on tape.
“I feel good,’’ he said. “I look at the tape and I try to look at it with an honest eye and I say, ‘I seem the same.’ And that’s probably because I haven’t taken the pounding over the course of my career,’’ he said.
“And I feel like that does lend itself to me being able to do some of those (more athletic) things. But with the way Lovie wants to do things, protecting the football is first and foremost. So I’ll just continue playing the way I have and let it sort itself out from there.’’