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If you aren’t convinced Jameis Winston can still be a star, by all means, read on

John Romano: It’s possible the Bucs quarterback will never reach his full potential, but a new head coach and a similar story from the past should offer hope.
No other quarterback in NFL history has thrown for as many yards (14,628) or touchdowns (88) before turning 25, but there are still huge question marks about whether Jameis Winston has the complete game to be a star in the NFL. TIMES ARCHIVES.
No other quarterback in NFL history has thrown for as many yards (14,628) or touchdowns (88) before turning 25, but there are still huge question marks about whether Jameis Winston has the complete game to be a star in the NFL. TIMES ARCHIVES. [ File photo ]
Published Aug. 30, 2019

TAMPA — Can this work? Isn’t that what you want to know?

Can this marriage of convenience between a coach coming out of retirement and a quarterback heading into free agency somehow change the fortunes of an NFL team stuck in a decade-long malaise?

It seems like a straightforward question and so here’s a simple answer:

Of course, it can.

The proof is in the history books.

It may not be the exact same scenario, but the similarities are there. The top pick in the draft, the enormous expectations, the flashes of brilliance and a long, arduous struggle to overcome turnovers.

In the late 1990s, the quarterback was Peyton Manning.

Today, the quarterback is Jameis Winston.

And the common denominator is Bruce Arians on a sideline.

Long before he became the star of Super Bowls and commercials, Manning was the guy who led the NFL in interceptions from 1998-2001. Sort of how Winston has led the NFL in interception percentage from 2015-18.

Their statistics through a similar point in their careers are nearly identical, suggesting the possibility of young gunslingers who needed to harness their considerable talents. You don’t necessarily think of Manning that way because you remember his last dozen seasons instead of his first four or five. But there was a growing curve that is not unlike Winston’s, even though Manning’s teams were far more successful.

So can this work?

Absolutely.

But will it work?

That’s an entirely different question.

Manning did not just blow out some candles on a birthday cake, and immediately become an All Pro quarterback at age 27. His work ethic was legendary. His decision-making was even more acclaimed.

Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowls in both Indianapolis and Denver, was a master at directing an offense by the end of his career. The future Hall of Famer finished with a 186-79 record as a starting quarterback.
Peyton Manning, who won Super Bowls in both Indianapolis and Denver, was a master at directing an offense by the end of his career. The future Hall of Famer finished with a 186-79 record as a starting quarterback. [ File photo ]


Whether Winston can follow a similar path will depend on whether he can learn to read defenses, learn to maximize the skills of those around him and learn to control his own worst playmaking tendencies.

And that’s where Arians comes in.

He was a much younger man, and the Colts quarterback coach, when Manning came into the league in ’98. Manning threw a career-high 28 interceptions as a rookie, but cut that number down to 15 in each of the next two seasons. When Arians left for a better job, Manning’s interceptions jumped back up to 23 and 19 before he finally settled into his Hall of Fame path.

The situation with Winston is a little different. Arians is now the head coach, and Winston already has four full seasons in the NFL behind him.

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So there are two ways you can look at this:

You can recognize that Winston was a starting quarterback at a very tender age and assume his trajectory can still head skyward, or you can say that he’s already had enough time to reveal his true self and any improvements will be incremental.

And as fine as Arians’ resume looks, he is not a miracle worker. When he left Manning to become Cleveland’s offensive coordinator, he inherited another former top pick at quarterback. And let’s just say it’s been a long time since anyone has seen Tim Couch in a TV commercial.

The marriage between Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston better pay immediate dividends because Winston's in the final year of his contract and Arians is too old to start over with a rookie quarterback. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
The marriage between Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston better pay immediate dividends because Winston's in the final year of his contract and Arians is too old to start over with a rookie quarterback. MONICA HERNDON | Times [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

What’s intriguing about Winston is everything you like about him is also the same things that makes you cringe. He’s hefty for a quarterback, but maybe heftier than ideal. He’s willing to throw deep, but maybe a little too willing. He’s got loads of confidence, but almost to the point of overconfidence.

In a way, you can see in him what you want. He’s the Rorschach Test of quarterbacks.

The scary thing is that a lot of his past errors have been unforced. While Arians has suggested Winston’s interceptions have been due to Tampa Bay playing from behind, that’s somewhat debatable.

Of Winston’s 14 interceptions in 2018, half came in first-and-10 situations. No other starter in the league had a worse ratio on first down. That’s not a quarterback in dire situations; that’s a quarterback who is making some unnecessarily bad decisions or throws.

Together, Arians and Winston need to come up with a fix. And they don’t have a lot of time. Winston’s contract is up in a few months and Arians, at 66, is not going to want to start over with a rookie quarterback.

So can this work?

It had better.


Comparing Peyton and Jameis

Peyton Manning and Jameis Winston have near-identical stats at the same juncture of their careers. Manning reached this point 3½ years into his career and had already turned 25. Winston has completed four seasons and turned 25 earlier this year.

Player Games Starts Att Comp Pct Yds TDs TD% INT INT% Rating
Peyton Manning 55 55 1,906 1,163 61.0 14,311 98 5.1 67 3.5 86.7
Jameis Winston 56 54 1,922 1,183 61.6 14,628 88 4.6 58 87.8 87.8

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.























Contact John Romano at jromano@tampbay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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