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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Smith says Bucs ready to contend in 2014

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Published:   |   Updated: March 26, 2014 at 04:48 PM

ORLANDO — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith considers himself a glass-half-full kind of guy. He wakes up most days looking at the world that way.

It’s no wonder, then, Smith believes the Bucs are poised to take a leap up the standings this year.

Smith isn’t necessarily predicting a championship for Tampa Bay in his first year as coach, but said Bucs fans deserve a team that can win now and thinks his building one that will.

“Yes, I think we can win,’’ Smith said Wednesday during a breakfast with reporters at the NFL owners’ meetings at the Ritz Carlton Grand Lakes Hotel. “There is no four-year plan. There is no, in year four we want to show improvement.

“We want to improve right away. And I’ve seen it happen before. Teams can go from the bottom of the division to back up top, so things can change quickly.’’

The Bucs were 4-12 in 2013, a point Smith continues to reiterate. But he thinks the 12 free agents the Bucs signed will help vault them up the standings, even in the tough NFC South.

“Yes, we feel like we can win and we have to think that way,’’ Smith said. “I’d be disappointed if anyone in our organization didn’t feel that way.’’

The additions include new starters in quarterback Josh McCown, right defensive end Michael Johnson and left tackle Anthony Collins. The Bucs, though, are far from a finished product.

“There is a lot unfinished business,’’ Smith said. “We’ve addressed a lot of our issues, but we’re trying to catch up with the rest of our division.’’

On Wednesday afternoon, the Bucs addressed an area of need in signing receiver Louis Murphy, a former Florida Gators who will provide depth behind projected starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

While the NFL draft in May remains another tool to add players, Smith didn’t rule out the possibility of young players already on the roster stepping up and filling the need.

“We have some young players right now that have potential,’’ Smith said. “I know that’s a scary word, but we do have some and we’ll just continue the process, so that is ongoing.’’

One such player is Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps. Though he’s been used primarily as a running back, Demps will get a chance to play receiver, Smith said.

“I’ve never had a chance to coach the fastest guy in the NFL,” Smith said. “We talked about his commitment to football and he loves track, but he considers himself a football player.

“And he’s anxious to get started with whatever position we ask him to play, whether it’s running back or wide receiver or returning kicks. Again, we’re a new staff coming in, so we’re going to give guys an option to do what they feel like they do best.’’

The Bucs once thought the best place for Adrian Clayborn was right defensive end. He’s been the opening-day starter there each of his three years in the league but is officially on the move now.

Clayborn will go into the offseason workout program as the starting left end, Smith said, with second-year pro William Gholston among those competing with him.

And while he didn’t name a candidate for the spot, Smith also plans to have a designated nickel or slot cornerback who will be coached specifically to play that position.

“Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside,’’ Smith said. “Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only that.

“The way I look at it, there are really 12 (starting) positions, and I count the third receiver as one and the nickel (corner) as one. When we introduce our team, both of those guys will probably get introduced with the starting lineup.’’

Smith will address his new team on April 7, the day the offseason workout program begins. The first of three minicamps is slated for April 21.

Establishing an identity, Smith said, is job one.

“I think that’s a must,’’ he said. “And then, once we start working with the players, they will tell us who should be (the starter) at each position and who should play and who should dress. So, we’re going to pay close attention.

“I tell them, I’m 55 years old, so my hearing is just OK. But my eyesight - we’re going to go with what we see. And that will determine everything, and normally it’s all clear for you once it’s all said and done.’’

rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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