TAMPA — Jameis Winston dropped back to pass, surveyed the field, cocked his right arm and did something he would have never attempted when faced with a similar situation last season. He ate the football. Decided to tuck and run.
And without stretching the chains, you could measure how much the Bucs quarterback has grown in Year 2.
"He knows way, way more than he did a year ago at this time," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said after Tuesday's mandatory minicamp practice. "And also if you remember a year ago at this time, he was probably throwing three or four interceptions every single day (of practice) and you saw even when things broke down today, Jameis pulled the ball down and ran. That's one thing we've been working hard on is our scramble drill. I think that's an area that we've improved."
Sure, there were times when Winston probably wanted to dig a hole in the field and crawl in it whenever he threw an interception as a rookie. His first NFL pass resulted in a pick six.
It's not as if opposing pass rushers were blocked like it was 5 p.m. on the Veterans Expressway. Quite the contrary. Despite an improved offensive line, and though he was sacked only 27 times, Winston took 109 hits, the fourth-most in the league.
But while ironing out the lumps, Winston went four straight games without an interception and finished with 22 touchdowns and 15 picks. He passed for 4,042 yards. He went to the Pro Bowl. He won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year via fan voting.
But though Winston was considered one of the most pro ready quarterbacks in last year's draft, having played in Jimbo Fisher's offense at Florida State, Koetter spoon-fed him the offense. Koetter, then the offensive coordinator under Lovie Smith, simplified some things. He gave Winston one side of the field to read the defense and limited his ability to audible to one run and one pass per offensive snap.
But 2016 promises to be a little different. Winston might have three- or four-play packages he can audible to, including the ability to change plays when recognizing the blitz. His ability to dissect defenses has accelerated.
"The more comfortable I get with the offense, the more stuff they can give to me," he said. "The more stuff they can put in my hands to go out there and execute.
"I always went by the motto at Florida State, 'See a little, see a lot. See a lot, see nothing.' I'm just paying attention to my keys and trying to go through the right progression,'' Winston said. "I think just executing the simple things is the right thing to do. You're never going to panic in those situations, but I'm pretty sure there will be things down the road that we can put in."
The most obvious change in Winston is physical. He has lost 18 pounds. He still has the boyish face, Magic Johnson's smile and Brett Favre's will to win. But quarterback is played mostly from the neck up and that will always be Winston's biggest advantage.
Koetter warns that it is only June. The Bucs aren't game-planning for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener at Atlanta.
"Well first off you have to remember, when we're in practice like this, everything is scripted because we're doing install, the defense is doing install," Koetter said. "There's not game planning going on. We had some stuff that looked kind of ragged today, but part of it we may not have game planned against this type of defense, so we're just trying to get stuff installed. Jameis can handle a lot and does handle a lot every day. He can handle more than we're giving him."
If there is one thing that might be different for the offense under Koetter this season, it will be the increased use of the no-huddle. Winston was at his best when he could ramp up the tempo, get into rhythm and keep defenses on their heels.
"I think when you're playing fast paced, the more you can cut out thinking, the better you are," Winston said. "Especially for the young guys that we had. You get up there, you call the play and you go with it."
The summer is starting to sizzle and fall seems as distant as a cool breeze, but you can't help but imagine how far an improved version of Winston can take the Bucs in his second year.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.