Jameis Winston had had football taken away from him, but until this season he had not been taken away from his team.
He missed three games with a shoulder injury last season. He was forced to watch a game against Clemson at Florida State for making some vulgar comments on campus.
But the three-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy was different. Winston could not have any contact with coaches and was allowed only approved text messages to teammates.
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"I was talking to Ali (Marpet) and Donovan (Smith) on Tuesday, and I just told them, 'Guys, thank you. I don't think you all understand how much I missed you guys,"' Winston said Thursday. "Just being able to be back in the routine of things because I worked so hard for this opportunity.
"Having this taken away from you briefly, it can make you reflect on things, like last year when I had my shoulder injury. It was tough for me. Even though I was happy we had success, I've never been out of football, you know, like out of the loop. So every day is a blessing to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and play this great game. So I've got to do my best to take advantage of this opportunity.''
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Winston will get his first start since his suspension Sunday at Atlanta, a place close to his hometown of Bessemer, Ala., where he has had some of this best games as a pro with family and friends watching. Winston has thrown 12 career touchdowns and only two interceptions against the Falcons.
"Every time I play Atlanta, I just imagine growing up in Bessemer, Ala., being an hour away (by plane) from Atlanta, seeing Michael Vick run around and do his thing," Winston said. "It's always been a dream to compete against Atlanta and win against Atlanta. So, going back to Atlanta has always been like a home game for me. That's how I view it because all my family shows up and, hopefully, I show out."
Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Winston has looked sharp in practice. The Bucs played him the second half at Chicago before beginning their bye week.
"The days that we've had him, we had a practice Monday and he's looked good," Monken said. "Timing is good. He had a nice training camp and preseason. He obviously did a nice job during the three weeks he was gone preparing."