Mature beyond his years Jameis Winston is the reason why Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is smiling
There will be a lot less to like about Jameis Winston this season, if only because he's down to a svelt 230-pounds and falling. It's the result of an off-season dedicated to making his body look more like the ones he saw at the Pro Bowl. Coach Dirk Koetter would look out the window of his office at 7:30 in the morning at One Buc place during the spring to spy his second-year quarterback alone on the practice field, running sprints, resisted by a parachute strapped to his waist.
"Jameis is very perceptive about not only what he needs to get better but what our offense and our team needs to get better,'' Koetter said. "That’s one of the things when you’re around him more, he’s mature way beyond his years with that sort of thing. The reason I got a smile is because that’s a good thing for the Bucs.’’
The weight of expectations, however, have not been lifted from Winston. On the contrary. A year ago at this time, he had just completed his Pro day at Florida State as the presumptive No. 1 overall pick who was told a month later to just worry about being a rookie rather than trying to become the leader of the team. In fact, he alternated first-team reps with backup quarterback Mike Glennon.
But after passing for 4,024 yards and accounting for 28 touchdowns (22 passing, six rushing) and being named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year, Winston quickly has emerged as the face of the franchise. When the Bucs reported to the first day of off-season workouts Monday, it was clear that Winston will be front and under center this year, this time as unquestioned emotional leader whose work ethic and performance will set the tone for Koetter's team in 2016.
On Monday, it was Winston talking about the off-campus workouts he organized with Mike Evans and throwing deep routes to his favorite target. But he didn't make Evans do all the running.
"You know, I don’t let him go by himself,'' Winston said. "He goes out there and he’ll run a 50-yard route, I will sprint 50-yards down the field, where ever he had caught the ball. So when I’m out there with the guys, I don’t let them do all the running because that’s the only excuse a receiver or tight end can have, “Well, you’re not out here running.’ And I say, “Okay, I’m going to show you. I’m going to do the same running you’re doing so we can’t have any excuses.’’
It was Winston who said Monday he would embrace the new rookie class and not haze them.
“I can’t wait. I’m all into welcoming somebody in,'' Winston said. "Because I know when I came in, a lot of people have their guard up because they don’t know what to expect. They’re like, “this guy is in the NFL. He might think he’s like this. And I’m just coming from college, so he might think I need to be like this type of way but he might think that I’m a bad guy.’ I’m like bro, just be yourself. That’s the easiest way you can have success quickly in this league. I’m going to accept them in as part of this family.''
And it's Winston, baptized with his girlfriend, Breion Allen, at a Pro Athletes Outreach event in Colorado Springs last month, who quoted Bible scripture when asked about his leadership style.
“If you’re trying to push leadership on guys, that guy is not going to want to follow you,'' Winston said. "Me and the Chaplain, Doug (Gilcrease), we were talking about Biblically what leadership means. Leadership means to serve others. As long I as I can serve the guys around me, I feel like I’m doing a good job of being a leader to them and I know they will do anything for me just like I will for them.’’
It will also be Winston's image that will soon adorn at least one corner of Raymond James Stadium this year. And he's ready for the increased exposure and expectations after a disappointing 6-10 season that ended with the firing of coach Lovie Smith and the hiring of Koetter, the Bucs offensive coordinator, as head coach.
Koetter addressed Bucs players as a group for the first time as head coach Monday, exactly five months before the regular-season opener Sept. 11.
“I did talk to the guys, mainly that it’s just a long road. It’s a long road,'' Koetter said. "Everybody is excited the first day, of course. We were excited to have them back. I didn’t want to bombard them with too much heavy stuff today, mainly just an outline of what the next 10 weeks is going to be like, what the off-season program is going to be like over the next 10 weeks.
"There were a lot of introductions. We’ve got several new coaches, several new players. I would say it starts first and foremost with new systems on offense and special teams and refining on the offensive side.''
It starts with Winston. It ends with him, too.
He has known that for some time, and his reponsibility was reinforced when he arrived in Hawaii and saw the physical conditioning maintained by fellow Pro Bowl players such as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Falcons receiver Julio Jones. So when Winston returned from the game, he hired Tim Grover, Michael Jordan's former trainer, and has worked out with him once a month along with regular sessions wiith Bucs strength coach Dave Kennedy.
“I do believe I get better every single day and I look good,'' Winston said. "I’m just saying, not to lose myself, because I love to eat and I’ve got to keep working hard. By me not knowing what to do in the off-season, it helped me because I know how to work. So I just went and I started working.''