INDIANAPOLIS - While watching them casually from the sideline during his year away from the game last season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith got the impression that Tampa Bay was probably a little better than its 4-12 record indicated.
Then he turned on the tape and adjusted his focus.
Now, after watching the Bucs with the more critical eye of a coach charged with turning them back into a playoff contender, Smith realizes his task might be a little more difficult than he first thought.
He knows now that his offensive line needs to play a lot better, that his defensive line needs an influx of edge rushers and that his team as a whole needs to be a lot faster, especially at wide receiver.
But he also knows now that the Bucs are actually outfitted rather well in at least one critical area of the field, and in much the same way they were when another Bucs coach came on board several years ago.
"When Tony Dungy came here in 1996, he came in and he looked around and he saw that he had No. 99, Warren Sapp, and that he had No. 55, Derrick Brooks, and he said, "That's not all bad,' " Smith said.
"Well, now I come in here, and I look up and see (defensive tackle) Gerald McCoy and (linebacker) Lavonte David, and it's kind of the same thing, except that I actually think we have a few more pieces in place.
"I see our safeties, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, and those are good football players, and so down the middle defensively, we look pretty good. And then you have (cornerbacks Darrelle) Revis and (Johnthan) Banks on the outside, and so there's a lot of good pieces in place.''
It's not just on the defensive side of the ball where Smith has found some good pieces. The situation at running back, Smith said, has the potential to be very favorable.
"You look at running back, and you can say that we have some guys from Doug Martin, who is rehabbing and has been a good player, to (Mike) James, who we really like in terms of what he did (last year).
"And then you have (Bobby) Rainey, and so you can look at our running back position and you like the combination of those guys, and with that position you can go from there, and so we seem to have a lot of depth.''
Neither Smith nor general manager Jason Licht can say with any certainty how deep the Bucs are at tight end, but both believe they have a keeper at the position in former Rutgers wide receiver Tim Wright.
"He was a rookie playing tight end for the first time last year and he had 54 catches (for 571 yards and five touchdowns),'' Licht said. "That's pretty impressive for a guy who never played that position before.
"And he looked pretty instinctive doing that last year, so that's a guy that you're going to want to keep developing. He's a bit of a mismatch, a big receiver type who can catch the ball.''
Wright isn't the only player making the transition to a new position that the Bucs want to keep developing. Smith has been impressed by corner-turned-safety Keith Tandy, and Licht likes defensive lineman-turned-offensive tackle Demar Dotson.
"He's athletic, he's tough and he's tremendously improved his technique from what I saw the first time I saw him a couple years ago,'' Licht said of Dotson. "He's a very smart player, too, very dependable.''
Smart and dependable enough to play left tackle? Perhaps.
"I think that's something that we'll experiment with and see,'' Licht said. "You always want your linemen to be versatile just in case something happens, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play there.''
Left tackle might not be the only offensive line position the Bucs experiment with. Smith seemed least happy with what he saw on tape from his offensive line in general, but in particular from former Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn and two-time Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph.
"I'll just say that both guys will tell you they didn't play as well as they're capable of playing last year,'' Smith said. "But I don't think there's anything that says they can't play back up to (what's expected of them).
"Davin is a little different because he (was coming off a knee) injury, and I don't think he was fully healed last year. So you're hoping another year out from surgery will make it better for him.
"As for Donald, sometimes you just don't play as well for whatever reason. But you're still on record. There's a reason why all these players got paid, because they could play on a certain level.
"So there's a new staff coming in now, and initially, this is the roster that we have and we have to find out if we can get these guys playing back where they're capable of playing and then we'll just go from there.''