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Buccaneers' Jameis Winston wins fans' top rookie honor

SAN FRANCISCO — On an outdoor television set for CBS, dressed in a brown suit, Jameis Winston took aim at a passing target a few feet off the faux football field after tumbling over from a gust of wind. From about 12 yards, he pumped four spirals through the narrow opening in five attempts.

With all of his Super Bowl appearances, the formal attire has come in handy this week, because Winston seems well-suited to perform under any circumstance.

The Bucs quarterback has familiarity in new coach Dirk Koetter and a Pro Bowl appearance under his belt. And on Friday, Winston was named the Pepsi NFL rookie of the year after a seasonlong vote solely from fans.

"It feels great to receive this honor from the fans," Winston, 22, said. "My goal coming into my rookie season was to come in and do whatever it took to help us win games and compete. As great as this individual accomplishment is, it is really a reflection of how well our entire offense did this season.

"The fans are what makes our sport so great and getting this kind of recognition based on their votes is very special to me."

It's the first of several awards Winston could earn this weekend. He is nominated for the more prestigious Associated Press NFL offensive rookie of the year — voted on by a panel of 50 media members who cover the league — that will be presented tonight at the NFL Honors show.

Winston won the fan voting over Rams running back Todd Gurley, Raiders receiver Amari Cooper, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters and Seahawks receiver/returner Tyler Lockett.

Winston joined Newton and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck as only the third rookie to pass for more than 4,000 yards. He also accounted for 28 total touchdowns, 22 passing and six rushing. That's the third most by a rookie in NFL history.

But Winston's impact went beyond statistics. He emerged as the team's emotional leader, uncommon for a rookie on a team that went 2-14 a year earlier. Like Newton, AP offensive rookie of the year in 2011, Winston lived up to expectations as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

He brought big plays back to the Bucs offense, which finished fifth overall with a franchise record 6,014 total yards. He had 57 passes of 20-plus yards, the sixth-most in the NFL.

"His stats and the fact that he led an offense that was best in franchise history speaks volumes," general manager Jason Licht said. "But it's the things you can't measure that were most impressive. He quickly established himself as the team leader. His passion for the game is remarkable, and his work ethic and dedication to making everyone around him better has been incredible. What he has done for this team, in a short amount of time, is simply special."

Koetter was impressed by Winston's willingness to learn and adapt his game to cut turnovers.

"I truly believe Jameis deserved to be honored as rookie of the year," Koetter said. "There were many fine candidates, but taking every snap at the most difficult position … and producing one off the greatest statistical seasons by a rookie in NFL history speaks volumes to the type of player and competitor Jameis is.

"Beyond that, he provided leadership and intangibles that made immeasurable differences to our football team. I am very happy for Jameis and look forward to working with him to build on an outstanding rookie season."

The award adds to Winston's impressive resume, which includes the Heisman Trophy and a national championship at Florida State.

Gurley would seem to be Winston's biggest competition for AP offensive rookie of the year. The running back missed the first three games recovering from a torn ACL but was named to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Bucs WR Jackson wins service honor

Vincent Jackson's commitment to supporting the military earned the Bucs receiver the NFL's Salute To Service award.

He will get the award tonight at the NFL Honors ceremony.

"It's great to see the NFL use their powerful platform to honor the members of our nation's military," Jackson said.

"I'm proud to be from a military family, and I'm also proud to be part of an organization such as the NFL that recognizes the sacrifice and dedication that our nation's soldiers, and their families, devote to this country."

Jackson, 33, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver, will have $25,000 donated in his honor from USAA to official aid societies representing all five military branches.

In 2012, on Veterans' Day, Jackson launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation to support military families. In 2014 he wrote a children's book, Danny Dogtags: Dealing with Deployment, examining the challenges he faced in a military family.

Jackson's parents served a combined 25 years of active-duty service in the Army.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.

Buccaneers' Jameis Winston wins fans' top rookie honor 02/06/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2016 11:27pm]
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