Saturday, April 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How to fix Jameis Winston

TAMPA — One week, you love Jameis Winston. Admit it. He throws perfect arcing passes that hit two receivers in their hands in the end zone. You praise him. The Bucs beat the Falcons, on the road, in the season opener.

The next week, you doubt him. Maybe even ridicule him. Four interceptions. A lost fumble for good measure. Sprays passes like a dancing garden hose. In a 40-7 loss at Arizona, Winston had the lowest passer rating in the league.

"It's one week," said offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken. "From NFC (offensive) player of the week to the next week. We're all frustrated. (Winston) is more than any of us."

So exactly which quarterback is Winston? Opinions vary, and all of them might be correct, to a degree.

This much is known about Winston a mere 18 games into his career: He struggles with his accuracy.

As a rookie last season, Winston completed 58.3 percent of his passes, the worst percentage of any quarterback in the NFL with at least 11 starts. But there's a little cubic zirconia in that stat. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner from FSU has a big arm and likes to drive the ball down field, not play check-down Charlie.

"I don't think completion percentage is a function of accuracy," said former Bucs and Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer, an analyst on ESPN. "(Winston is) inconsistent at times with his location on some of the tighter throws. Completion percentage isn't an indicator of the fact he does throw it down the field more than other guys."

Two of Winston's interceptions this year have come on a deflected pass and a Hail Mary to end a game. The others were poorly located passes, some made under duress. Since early in his rookie year, Winston has rarely, if ever, made many poor decisions with the ball. He reads defenses like a children's book, the result of some savant coaching by Jimbo Fisher at FSU.

"I think his recognition is off the charts," said the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Brad Johnson. "You have to remember, he's a young guy right out of college. He would be (a) redshirt, fifth-year senior (if he had stayed at FSU). All the things they put on him, the audibles and checks, they did not hold back the playbook. I think he's light years ahead of 99.9 percent of all quarterbacks."

When Winston was 17, Dilfer said he handed the teenager an NFL playbook at a quarterback camp. "He thought it was boring," Dilfer said. "He's not your average bear."

Okay, so Winston knows where to go with the ball. But precision is required of any NFL quarterback, especially against the kind of man-to-man coverage Winston faced Sunday at Arizona and will see again today against the Rams.

Because the windows are tighter, a pass that is 1 degree off at the point of delivery will drift by a foot or more by the time it is 20 yards downfield.

"Absolutely. Those interceptions (against Arizona) were strictly about accuracy, and that's just, pardon me again, improving my game, just having to get better," Winston said. "Especially when you're playing against man teams, you have to be pinpoint accurate because the margin for error is not much."

What is at the root of Winston's inaccuracy? His mechanics, or lack thereof, particularly when it comes to the lower half of his body and setting his feet.

Until two years ago, Winston spent every spring as a baseball pitcher, so he tends to overstride as if he were on the mound.

The Bucs have worked with him on keeping a more compact base, and Winston has improved. Quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian harps on keeping a ''boxer's stance.''

Dilfer said that though Winston has a longer delivery than some quarterbacks, it's more than adequate to pitch the ball on time.

"Generally, the longer or more elongated your stroke is, the more margin for error there is," Dilfer said. "I wouldn't say he has a bad stroke. It's not long in terms of Kerry Collins, Byron Leftwich or myself early in my career. His stroke is somewhere between compact and long.

"If you look at most accurate passers in NFL history, down the field, with very few exceptions, they had a very compact throwing motion. A very simple movement is a more repeatable movement pattern. If I was coaching Jameis, I wouldn't make any dramatic changes. I would challenge him to make some tiny tweaks over time. Widen his base to flatten his eye level. Shorten his stride frequency, which will make his delivery more compact."

The more compact the motion, the less stress over time on the shoulder and the longer career a quarterback might have.

One thing about Winston that nobody wants to coach out of him is that he's not afraid to make plays. Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots at the buzzer, but you remember only the ones he made.

"I just keep on going," Winston said. "There's not enough time to be scared, to hold back. You've just got to keep playing. … Things are going to happen your way or they're not. Sometimes those tipped balls are going to go our way."

Dilfer said former 49ers quarterback John Brodie told him that the great quarterbacks are going to have three stinkers a season. If their team is good enough, they might even win one of them.

But in time, those are the quarterbacks who win Super Bowls and passing titles.

"You're going have the Arizona game every now and then," Dilfer said.

But you're also going to have the Atlanta game. So what about today's Rams game?

Well, it might be another crisis or carnival, but it's going to be one heck of a wild ride.

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