TAMPA ― Bruce Arians may not have come out of retirement to take the Bucs head coaching job unless he had a quarterback like Jameis Winston.
“It was a big part of it. It was a big part of it, to have all the pieces,'' Arians said Thursday as veterans reported to training camp. "You know, ownership, general manager, quarterback, coaches. As that all fell into place, the excitement level got higher and higher. Even in my wife. It wasn’t hard convincing her. She knew how excited I was, so yeah, that’s a huge part of it.’’
Truth be told, the Bucs may have not sought hiring Arians had they not wanted to salvage the career of Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft who has only produced one winning record when the team went 9-7 in 2016.
Winston is in the final year of his contract, a fifth-year club option that will pay him $20.92-million this season.
Arians has said what Winston needs to be successful is a better team around him. A better defense, which allowed 29 points per game. And a better running game, which ranked last in the NFL last season.
But Winston also has to cut down on his turnovers. He’s had 58 interceptions in 56 career games.
“I think that’s all the stuff we’re still learning,'' Arians said of Winston. "Learning this offense. Learning to dump it down. When to take the shots. We talk a lot about that, even in two days ago.
"Ryan (Griffin) took a shot on third down. I looked at (Winston) and he said, 'I would’ve thrown it to Cam.’ I said, 'what about first down.’ He said, 'I would’ve thrown the touchdown.’ I said, 'Exactly.’ When to do it, when not to do it. Because in each play, there’s a short pass, a long pass. What’s your matchup? Learning that, we had Scotty matched on safety and we took the safe pass when we had the touchdown when you look on film. It’s like, woo, you can’t miss those matchups and there’s still that learning process and still learning some guys. Breshad (Perriman). Scotty (Miller). Those guys, too.’’
Of course, Arians doesn’t want to coach Winston’s ability to extend plays and take aggressive shots down field out of him.
“Oh yeah, you don’t want him playing scared,'' Arians said. "You want him playing smart. It’s a big difference.''
The Bucs had a conditioning run scheduled Thursday — a series of 20, 60-yard sprints with a rest after 10. Their first practice is Friday at 4 p.m.
After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, and with no playoff appearances in 11 years, not much is expected of the Bucs in 2019. Arians told his team not to pay attention to the predictions.
“Yeah, I mean our guys, don’t listen to the noise,'' Arians said. "Go to work every day. I go back to my first year in Arizona. It was five (wins), mostly six. We won 10. And we had injuries. But we played and won games in the last two minutes.
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“When you go back and look at those 5-11 records (for the Bucs), there were a lot of close games. We didn’t play smart enough to win, or we missed a kick, or we had a penalty or busted assignment. It was Bucs beating Bucs. Play better in the final two minutes of the half or at least the final two minutes of the game. Make a kick. They’re at least 8-8.''