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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Bucs’ Licht, Lovie can’t swing and miss at draft

— He wishes it was today, not a week away.

First-year Bucs general manager Jason Licht is charging at his first NFL draft.

“There’s no better way to sum it up than: I’m fired up,” Licht said.

Licht, a personnel junkie from way back, and Bucs coach Lovie Smith, a winning coach from even further back, will try to put their stamp on a wayward franchise. They’re feeling each other out even as they size up one of the deeper drafts in NFL history, knowing that they can’t swing and miss.

“Coaches start bragging on how many hours they spend looking at video,” Smith said. “I’ll just say Blair, Jason’s wife, and Mary Anne, my wife, neither one is in town, so we’ve gotten to know One Buc Place fairly well.”

How well?

Licht broke down Smith’s scouting technique at a pre-draft news conference, how Lovie leans back when watching offensive linemen (Licht leaned back to demonstrate) and forward when watching defensive players (Licht leaned forward). Everyone laughed.

It’s their first draft together, and it matters.

Consider the Bucs’ 2009 and 2010 draft classes, the first two under Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik. There is only one player left on the Bucs from those classes: Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, but everyone else is gone, including Morris and Dominik’s first draft pick, Josh Freeman.

“Is it hard to make up, and is it a hindrance?” Smith said. “That’s probably one of the reasons why Jason and I are both here right now, so that’s just a part of it. If you have to have one guy remaining, you would like for it to be Gerald (McCoy). … Of course our plan, it’s for us to do better on the draft and make that our foundation, I feel like we’ll do that. Again, I think it started with free agency, and we’re going to keep that momentum going through this draft.”

So, guys, what have you got, especially at No. 7?

Neither Licht nor Lovie are letting on, much, but the GM gave us a window into draft day, and maybe two different approaches to trying to get their board right.

“We’re going to do it again tonight and leading up until early next week,” Licht said. “On draft day, it will be simple. Lovie’s got his own grading scale: where we have numbers and things, Lovie’s just, ‘I like him,’ or ‘I love him,’ so he makes it a little easier on me.”

They’ve tried to strike a balance between new and old.

Here’s the GM on computer analytics ...

“Early on in my career, I was from the old school where it was, you just watch the tape and that’s what it is and that is the bare bones. You have to evaluate the player and what he does on tape, but we both feel that analytics help us, guide us and give us some — raise some questions that help us evaluate the player a little bit better.”

Here’s the coach on player interviews ...

“Yes, there is one question that I ask most of the guys,” Smith said. “Since 2004, I’ve had three players get it right. I figure you will ask, ‘What is that question?’ It’s between the players and I; I can’t tell you that. But, there is one.”

I’m betting it’s deeper than “multiply the base and the height and divide by two.”

What, or who, is the answer for the Bucs? Will it come out of the Texas A&M triangle of Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews?

As for Johnny Football, Smith and Licht are emitting mixed signals, probably on purpose. No — definitely on purpose.

“Very impressive interview,” Licht said of Manziel. “We had a great day with him. Lovie and him both have Texas roots. We enjoyed every minute that he was here. Sharp guy.”

“Josh McCown is a good quarterback that could lead us to a lot of victories,” Smith said. “Mike Glennon is an excellent quarterback also and (quarterback) Mike Kafka is good. We feel pretty good about our guys that we have right now, even though there are a lot of good options at the QB position.”

And away we go.

Jason Licht spent years working his way up the NFL ladder, long hours, loving hours, tape to watch, names and numbers to crunch. He made sure to thank Bucs scouts and personnel people for their hours this time around. Now it’s his turn to run the show, him and Lovie.

“2001 was my first year in the war room,” Licht said. “I learned from a lot of different people and I guess the No. 1 thing … I was thinking about this last night … just be patient. Be patient and don’t get anxious and don’t stress. Let it come to you. Lovie tells me that every day.”

He still wishes today was the day.

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