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Jameis Winston has a head coach who believes in him again

The Bucs quarterback begins his fifth training camp by looking, and sounding, like his old self
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said it's a plus to have a coach who believes you, a thinly-veiled reference to new coach Bruce Arians. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said it's a plus to have a coach who believes you, a thinly-veiled reference to new coach Bruce Arians. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Jul. 25, 2019|Updated Jul. 26, 2019

TAMPA — He has his swag back.

Not that Jameis Winston has ever been low on self-confidence.

But when the Bucs quarterback reported to training camp last season, a three-game suspension looming, he was asked to push the mute button.

On Thursday, entering his fifth and possibly final year with the Bucs, Winston looked and sounded reborn. That may be overdramatizing things, but under new coach Bruce Arians, everybody’s chin seems to be held higher.

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“He’s going to shoot it to you straight, and he’s got incredible swag and incredible confidence, and that’s why he’s been successful coaching in this league for so many years,’’ Winston said of Arians. “He loves his coaches just like he loves his players, and that’s a good feeling to be around.’’

Let’s face it. Last year, by the end of another 5-11 season — one in which Winston was benched for three games — then-coach Dirk Koetter wasn’t exactly beloved by Winston. It’s questionable whether he was even “be-liked.”

“Well, I’m going to go to work regardless,’’ Winston said. “But it’s always a plus when your head coach believes in you.’’

New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said he aims to put a better team around Jameis Winston. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said he aims to put a better team around Jameis Winston. MONICA HERNDON | Times

Arians believes in Winston so much that he may not have come out of retirement for the job after Koetter was fired after last season unless the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft was still on the roster. At 66, there was no reason for Arians to leave his forever home on a lake in Georgia unless he had a good quarterback, and Winston qualified.

“It was a big part of it, to have all the pieces,’’ Arians said as veterans reported to training camp ahead of today’s first practice. “You know, ownership, general manager, quarterback, coaches. As that all fell into place, the excitement level got higher and higher.’’

Arians is a two-time coach of the year who helped develop Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer. Winston is his latest challenge. Arians’ aggressive, push-the-ball-down-the-field, go-for-the-jugular system would appear to be a perfect fit for Winston.

But unlike some head coaches Winston has had in the past, Arians isn’t going to ask him to win a game all by himself.

Arians believes many of Winston’s 58 career interceptions in 56 games can be traced to the quarterback having to try to rally the Bucs from behind because of a leaky defense and no running game.

But Winston has work to do, too, and he knows it. Quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen says the staff has worked hard on Winston’s mechanics, starting with his alignment and footwork.

“Why does Tiger Woods, why do those great golfers lay down a stick? They can’t get it right?’’ Christensen said. “They’ve hit 10 million balls. They ought to be able to line up down the middle of the fairway or down the middle of the hole for a 3-footer. But they lay down a stick and work on alignment.

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“I think that’s been the emphasis (with Winston), his footwork, foot quickness and just his alignment. Once you get aligned and loaded up right, the rest is easy.’’

Winston’s decision-making also has been a big focus. Arians believes it will improve as Winston becomes more familiar with his new offense and learns when to check the ball down and when to go for broke.

“I think that’s all the stuff we’re still learning,’’ Arians said. “Learning this offense, learning to dump it down, when to take the shots.’’

This is a good time for Winston, who is only 25. His son has already celebrated his first birthday. Arians calls his new quarterback a workaholic, and apparently, that spreads to more constructive aspects of his life.

“You work at being a father,’’ Winston said. “You work at being a quarterback. You work at being a husband. You work at being an all-time puzzle maker. You work at putting together play houses and toys; that’s very difficult to do. I’m consistently learning and working, so a workaholic is a good definition.’’

The Bucs went 9-7 in their first year under Koetter, 2016, Winston’s only winning season. They’ve finished last in the NFC South three of the four years Winston has been under center. Part of the problem is that the division is rich in quarterback talent. Drew Brees has won a Super Bowl. Cam Newton and Matt Ryan each has been to one.

But Brees is 40. Ryan is 34. And Newton, at 30, is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Winston should be coming into his prime and starting to reel them in. At the least, he should outlast all of them if the Bucs can start winning some games.

“I’m blessed to have an opportunity to be the quarterback for the Bucs,’’ Winston said. “I’m blessed to have a beautiful family and an opportunity. Grateful for this organizations and these owners. All those other guys, I’m sure they would say the same. I have to be the best Jameis.’’

Jameis Winston (3) spoke to reporters Thursday, the day before the Bucs opened their 2019 training camp.  MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Jameis Winston (3) spoke to reporters Thursday, the day before the Bucs opened their 2019 training camp. MONICA HERNDON | Times

Last year, Winston was asked by Koetter “to lead from behind’’ and took second-team reps in training camp while the Bucs prepared Ryan Fitzpatrick to start.

But all that seems behind Winston now.

“I think the first thing was trust,’’ Christensen said. “Jameis has had a lot of different people and a lot of different situations, and probably some folks who have betrayed his trust and some who have abused his trust. The No. 1 thing is always getting someone’s trust. Can they trust you; can they trust what you teach?’’

Why does Winston trust Arians when they haven’t played in a regular-season game together?

“His essence, man,’’ Winston said. “When a guy walks in the room, he’s approachable. You know you can talk to him at any time. And I think that’s just a good quality to have as a head coach, and that’s the same way at the quarterback position.

“I just think he’s an amazing coach, how he’s able to relate to the player, and I think he expects a lot from his players and he gets the most from them.’’

The swag is back.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.

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