Commentary | Tampa Bay Bucs head coach Lovie Smith says basketball skills can bring success on football field

adell@bradenton.comMay 18, 2014 

Buccaneers Rookie Camp Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-round draft pick tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins catches a pass during NFL football rookie camp Friday, May 16, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

CHRIS O'MEARA — AP

Standing apart from the sea of humanity at the Dick Vitale Gala, Lovie Smith quietly joked that his Tampa Bay Buccaneers would make a heckuva basketball team.

The gleam in his eye and smile were hard to dismiss. The Bucs head coach sees a correlation between winning NBA and NFL games.

He could even argue that if the Bucs and his old team, the Chicago Bears, combine rosters they might contend for an NBA title.

But it's more than just about size.

The Bucs and the Bears could have the tallest receiving corps (based on two wideouts and a tight end) next season.

But you need more, which is why Smith loves basketball players.

"Anybody can't go out there and play basketball. It takes a good athlete with quickness, size, vertical (jump), and it's a lot of different things you get playing basketball," Smith said at rookie mini-camp. "If everybody can't do it normally, that translates to getting good production on the football field."

Besides having three athletic receivers, it helps to have an athletic quarterback. The Bucs might be short in that area with projected starter Josh McCown and Mike Glennon, his slowed-footed backup.

If all goes according to plan, the Bucs will have 6-foot-5 twin towers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans starting at receiver with 6-6 tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. All were standout basketball players in high school.

The top receivers for Super Bowl champion Seattle last year were smallish 5-11 Golden Tate and 5-10 Doug Baldwin. But the Seahawks had an athletic quarterback in Russell Wilson.

When San Francisco made it to the 2012 Super Bowl, its top receiver was 6-2 Michael Crabtree. Last year, the 49ers reached the NFC title game with 6-1 Anquan Boldin the leading receiver at age 32. But San Francisco has one of the most athletic quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick.

Detroit had one of the bigger receiving corps last year with 6-5 Calvin Johnson, 6-7 tight end Joseph Fauria and 6-foot Nate Burleson but finished 7-9 in large part because scattergun quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 19 interceptions and was often reckless with the ball.

Chicago had a 6-4 set of receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and 6-7 tight end Martellus Bennett, but finished 8-8 with a lot of the blame going to a poor defense. McCown threw 13 TDs and had only 1 interception, but was 3-2 for the Bears.

Jeffery was a key member of his high school basketball team, which won four state championships. Marshall lettered in basketball and track in high school and won the state triple jump at Lake Howell High.

Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford likes to throw to the running backs, which is a reason Tampa Bay selected Charles Sims in the third round, another athletic guy.

The Bucs don't appear to have a need at the position, but Smith said Sims was a person he couldn't pass on.

"We have an excellent running backs coach (Tim Spencer) who liked Matt Forte when no one else did, and he came to me after the Senior Bowl talking about Charles Sims," Smith said. "He is a very good football player and in time everybody will grow to like him. He has a little bit more size and little more height than some of our guys, but you can't have too many good running backs. He'll give us little bit more in the passing game than what we've had."

Sims made his coach look good Saturday in Day 2 of the Bucs rookie mini-camp when he caught a touchdown pass. Smith said Sims could possibly return kickoffs or punts.

"We at least know a little bit more about our rookies right now," the coach said. "They have a long ways to go. Next week we start our OTAs; our version of the spring ball starts up Tuesday, so we want them ready to go then, not too sore, so we'll just go through walk-throughs tomorrow and get ready for Monday."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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