Luke McCown hasn't been named Tampa Bay's starting quarterback, but he's certainly acting as if he will lead the Buccaneers offense in 2009. McCown, 27, is one of several Bucs players participating in voluntary offseason workouts at One Buccaneer Place this week.
"We are getting rolling with the offense," said McCown. "I'm looking forward to the opportunities. We are getting acquainted with the offense and [Jeff Jagodzinski], and his way of doing things. There is a lot of open, real good communication going on right now as far as the offense and his installation of it, and how we the players perceive it. Having been through [Jon] Gruden's offense for five years and having that ingrained, there needs to be that communication of translating things. I think of the guys that are here, the receivers, the running backs, have done a really good job. We've have had some time together to pick up on his philosophy of offense."
The Bucs re-signed McCown to a two-year, $7.5 million contract before the free agent signing period began in late-February. The decision to re-sign McCown was one of the factors that led to the decision to not re-sign Jeff Garcia, whom McCown backed up for the majority of the 2008 season.
While he was comfortable in Gruden's version of the West Coast offense, McCown likes the concepts of Jagodzinski's system.
"Yeah I think so, everybody talked about the complexity of Coach Gruden's system and it was at times, but the volume of it was what made it tough to grasp sometimes," McCown said. "It was how much he had going into a game plan, and from the installation that we've had with coach Jags we kind of get an understanding that the volume as far as game plans, and overall, is going to be cut down. We can still do all the same things that we did. We can still matchup personnel wise in the same ways that we did in previous years. It is just the verbiage and the volume of memorization is not going to be as much, and I think that is going to help."
McCown owns a 1-6 record as a starter in the NFL (1-2 in Tampa Bay) and has a career quarterback rating of 75.2, but he owns a 91 QB rating in seven games (three starts) with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay currently has three quarterbacks on its roster, including McCown, but head coach Raheem Morris and Jagodzinski plan to bring four signal callers to training camp.
That means the Bucs could still draft a quarterback in April, but McCown feels the Bucs are holding true to their word to allow him to compete for a starting job in 2009, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay has not expressed interest in any of the four free agent quarterbacks that were former first-round picks and have starting experience (Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, J.P. Losman and Kyle Boller). McCown said he does view that lack of interest in free agents as a vote of confidence.
"Yeah, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it, but yeah that fact there are four guys that are former first rounder's that have been starters, it has to," McCown said. "If you sit back and look at what they are saying to you through the air waves it has to give you a little bit more confidence. Again I don't pay a lot of attention to it, I have a job to compete with who ever they bring in. I'm going to do my very best to make sure that whoever they bring in doesn't get to play."
While the Bucs haven't expressed much interest in free agent quarterbacks, they have been linked to rumors and reports that suggest Broncos QB Jay Cutler is on his way out of Denver. McCown was asked if he needs to come out and say that the Buccaneers don't need to acquire Cutler.
"I'm going to let you say that for me," said McCown. "All anybody ever needs is a chance. A lot of people wanted to cut Matt Cassel after the preseason last year and go with Kevin O'Connell, the guy they drafted, as the two. All he needed was a chance, and he did a hell of a job last year, so all anybody is ever looking for is a chance. I feel as much or more skill, athletic ability, ability to throw the ball, and accuracy as anybody in the league. I just need that opportunity to grow into being a proven experienced guy. You can't go out and buy it. You don't get it coming out of college. You have to wait your turn, if that is sitting on the bench for five years, six years, then that is just kind of the way it goes. I'm ready. I feel like I'm ready, if I'm not ready now after six years, I don't know when you will be ready. I'm going to take my lumps as everybody does, but I'm going to get better through them.
"I don't expect to take major lumps. I'm not going to be going out there and handing it to a defensive end. There is going to be lumps and growing pains. What is great about the conversations that I've had with our coaches, and Raheem [Morris], and Mark [Dominik] is they understand that and they are going to let us grow through that as an offense. Again none of us feel like there is going to be a lot of lumps. We are going to hit the ground running and we are going to be competitive."
Reports suggested the Bucs attempted to trade for Cutler in a three-way deal that would have sent Matt Cassel to Denver, Cutler to Tampa Bay and the Bucs' first- and third-round draft picks to New England on the first weekend of free agency, but the Patriots wound up dealing Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a second-round pick.
Tampa Bay is still being mentioned as a possible destination for Cutler, but McCown isn't too worried about it. He's focused on trying to make the most of the opportunity that the Bucs have afforded him.
"My job is go out and prove that I'm the franchise guy," McCown said. "I have a year or two to prove that. What they feel like they need to do is what they feel is best for the organization. I love the Bucs. I love being here. I'm glad to be here. I want the Bucs to succeed. Mark wants to be the best [general manager] that he can be, Raheem was to be the best head coach that he cane be, they have to do their jobs and their jobs is to put together the best team that they can put together. If they feel like that is another option I can't blame them for it. I wouldn't agree with it. I have the opportunity to prove now that I'm the franchise guy that they are looking for. The guy that is going to be the quarterback here for the next seven, eight, nine years, and I'm going to do my very best to prove that."
Not only did Tampa Bay re-sign McCown, the Bucs added some firepower to their offense this offseason by trading for tight end Kellen Winslow and signing running back Derrick Ward, in addition to bringing back wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, and TE Jerramy Stevens. Those are players McCown looks forward to working with.
"No question, with how friendly the offense is going to be, and quarterback-friendly and the kind of guys we have on the field, you can't help but be excited about what is sitting right in front of you," McCown said. "Teams aren't built like this very often where you have a franchise receiver (Antonio Bryant), another guy at receiver that should and could be a franchise receiver (Michael Clayton), you have two franchise tight ends now (Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens), and two smart quality running backs in [Earnest Graham] and Derrick [Ward]. Cadillac [Williams] is coming on strong. He looks really good. When you have that kind of talent around you, man you feel good, and we are still looking at lot of the guys that are working their way back from injury. Maurice Stovall and guys like that who will step up, and come in and make a difference for us.
"You can't help but be excited about what is going on in his building. When we get on the field, everybody understands the opportunity in front of them. We have gotten younger, fast on this team. We understand that. I think myself and Mike Clayton, Jerramy Stevens, Kellen, [Graham], and [Bryant] we understand that it is our team now. I think that is something different that you will see now. You aren't going to see anybody coming out and saying ‘this is my team.' This is our team, and that is the way we are approaching it. It is our team, and it is our turn to run it, and we are excited about it."