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Lovie needed a leader at QB, and team-first McCown was his man

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Updated: August 12, 2014 3:00PM



TAMPA, Fla. — Lovie Smith was happy for Josh McCown. When the Bears’ backup quarterback took his star turn last season for five starts, his former coach, living down the road from Halas Hall, sent him texts of congratulations.

‘‘A player who’s been in the league that long hasn’t gotten an opportunity to be in a great situation,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But he got that and took advantage of it.’’

Smith is banking on recreating the situation with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers alongside McCown, his new starting quarterback, who in March signed a two-year, $10 million deal.

‘‘We needed good players, but there’s a lot of good players that don’t fit into the team concept,’’ said Smith, who, after being fired after nine seasons with the Bears, took a year off and was named the Bucs’ coach in January. ‘‘At that position, I think you need a good player, but you also need a great leader. I didn’t have to wonder about that.’’

Whether McCown can shine without Bears coach Marc Trestman — whose offense reinvigorated McCown’s career to the tune of 13 touchdowns with one interception — is another question.

Ask McCown what he learned in his one season under Trestman, and he rattles off football truisms — understanding protection and a quick delivery — before turning inward.

‘‘Holistically, to serve your teammates and put them ahead of your own interests,’’ he said. ‘‘Things tend to work out at the end of the day.’’

Second-year player Mike Glennon learned that the morning after McCown signed to take over his starting job.

‘‘The first thing he said was how much he wanted to help me,’’ Glennon said. ‘‘How he’s here for me to be a better player.’’

It would have been easy for Glennon to roll his eyes — ‘‘Some people don’t really mean it,’’ he said — had McCown’s team-first reputation not preceded him. McCown wouldn’t have blamed him.

‘‘If you try to explain that the first day, there’s probably some crazy looks and ‘We’ll see about that,’ ’’ McCown said. ‘‘But that is my goal, man. Last year in that situation, it was to help Jay [Cutler] play as good as he can and to be able to play [myself]. In this situation, it’s to play the best I can and help those guys be ready to play. It works both ways.’’

Rarely, though, has McCown been the top dog. He’ll be the season-opening starter for the first time since 2007.

‘‘I’ve been exactly in his shoes,’’ McCown said of Glennon.

The starting job lured McCown, as did playing again for Smith, his coach in 2011 and 2012, and living a short flight from his wife and four children in North Carolina.

‘‘To play in the league, whatever the average is, he’s doubled or tripled by now,’’ said Glennon, who, at 24, jokes with McCown that he’s closer in age to McCown’s 16-year-old daughter than to 35-year-old McCown. ‘‘That shows the kind of guy he is, and his work ethic. It’s come full circle for him.’’

The transition hasn’t been totally smooth. In Friday’s preseason opener against the Jaguars, McCown completed 2 of 4 passes for 20 yards, had an interception returned for a touchdown, fumbled twice and finished with a passer rating of 25.0.

He remembered a Bears mantra: Anytime one player leaves, the team is altered.

‘‘To change cities and uniforms and all that, it’s different,’’ McCown said.

Smith is far from worried.

‘‘He’s been everything I knew he would be,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Not hoped he would be, but knew he would be.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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