Alex Smith is well aware of the competition he faces — both on the team and within himself.
He has other players to contend with, like Anthony Becht and newcomer Jerramy Stevens.
He also has his own history, one in which he’s performed well, but not necessarily at the pace the Buccaneers would have liked.
The third-year tight end – and head coach Jon Gruden – is hoping that changes this year.
“Alex Smith is a guy going into year three who we think has a big upside,” Gruden said. “It’s time he steps up and explodes onto the scene so everybody in the country knows who he is.”
If he can’t, Smith knows who is waiting to take his snaps. There is Stevens, signed by the Bucs in April, and Becht, his position partner and mentor the past two seasons.
Stevens played in Seattle for five years, where he was a sometime starter, but never fulfilled the potential the Seahawks had for him when they took him in the first round out of Washington.
“He’s played in a Super Bowl and put up some big numbers,” Smith said.
Still, Smith said he’s feeling no pressure.
“I just want to go out and play and make things happen,” he said. “Nobody is expecting us to win. Nobody is expecting us to do anything. So if we just go out and play like we have nothing to lose, I think we’ll be great.”
Smith said Gruden is always trying to provide an extra punch at the tight end position, part of the reason for the extended cast of characters at the position.
“He likes to have as many as possible,” Smith said. “You could see three of us on the field at once at times in a game. It’s just a matter of having as many at his disposal as he can and just creating mismatches on the field.”
Smith (6-4, 258) is envisioned as a tight end with Pro Bowl potential. His progress has been gradual, but he’s finished among the top three in receptions each of his first two years on the team. That included a 41-catch season as a rookie in 2005. He caught 35 passes last year.
So far this preseason Smith has just one catch for 16 yards. It’s not a reflection on what the Buccaneers think of him. He’s considered a starter now, and in Gruden’s system starters get extra rest during the preseason.
But some believe that last year’s slow start — the Bucs started 0-4 — is partially due to the limited playing time he gives to his regular-season starters. Smith said the Bucs want to avoid that this year.
“It’s just one of those things where if we get out of the gate like we know we can, we think we’ll be dangerous,” he said.
The addition of quarterback Jeff Garcia will create opportunities downfield for Smith and other players, Smith said. Garcia’s only touchdown pass of the preseason so far was to David Boston on a designed rollout against Jacksonville.
"He scrambles, and you just have to stay alive and know that he's going to be looking for you downfield. Just that aspect of his game alone I'm very excited about," Smith said.
For Smith, he's looking to establish some chemistry with his fifth quarterback in two years and "if I know who the guy is going to be," he believes it'll be his year to finally have the outstanding season that has so far eluded him.
And he knows big things are expected from him, especially after Gruden told the media during training camp that some plays were designed to put the ball in his hands.
"If my name is called, I know I have to get the job done," he said. "For him to tell me he has the confidence in me makes me want to go out and make it happen. There are things we had been trying to do in the past where my number has been called, and I couldn't quite get the plays through that we wanted to.
"But anytime he wants to call your number, you know you want to step up to the plate."