TAMPA — Having finished last in the NFC South eight times in the past 10 years, the Bucs aren’t exactly favored to win the division or even contend for a playoff spot.
That could be an advantage, according to second-year defensive back M.J. Stewart. Appearing on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, Stewart said the Bucs prefer to be off the radar.
"We’re in a loaded division — the NFC South,” Stewart said. “We have the Falcons, the Panthers and the Saints, who are all really good. And we’re a sleeper team, which we like, because we don’t get that media hype — but we’ll show it on the field where it matters.”
Of course, any conversation about the Bucs eventually includes quarterback Jameis Winston. Stewart praised Winston’s work ethic and leadership.
“Since I’ve been there, I’ve seen his work ethic just skyrocket,” Stewart said of Winston. "I was actually on the field, probably about a week ago, and I saw him out there. We were both out there in the pouring rain, working out. He was out there before I got out there working out with his coaches. I just see that work ethic, that work mentality that he has that he wants to be the quarterback who everybody thinks he is.
“I mean, everybody respects him because from Day 1, from the day I got there, he was always a leader to me. He always came to me and said, ‘I saw what you did out there. Great work.’ Or ‘You should’ve caught that pick. Don’t drop the money.’ He always says encouraging things like that to me but he also talks his junk...it’s that kind of competition like that that pushes me.”
This is a big year for Stewart, who may have to win the nickel cornerback spot to earn significant playing time. The Bucs are expected to begin with Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis on the outside at cornerback. But they also drafted cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean. There’s a chance that Stewart could even move to safety.
“I like to be valuable wherever I’m at," Stewart said about moving from cornerback to safety. “Whether that be corner, nickle or safety. Wherever the team needs me"