Dad still schools Bucs rookie Antoine Winfield Jr.

When your dad played in the league 14 seasons, you tend to listen.
Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will make his rookie debut in New Orleans on Sunday.
Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. will make his rookie debut in New Orleans on Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sept. 12, 2020

TAMPA — Sometime before his first NFL game Sunday at New Orleans, Antoine Winfield Jr. will look at his phone and read the text sent from his dad. It will offer some words of encouragement and a few coaching tips, a routine they have had since his days at the University of Minnesota.

“I’ll say stuff like, ‘Stay focused. Know your assignment,'” said Winfield Sr., who played 14 seasons at cornerback in the NFL for the Bills and Vikings. “Just little things. Get him hyped up a little bit. It’s usually something I make up that day.”

Winfield Jr. was always eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now he appears to be more than ready to fill his dad’s shoes.

Not that he had a choice.

“When he came out of the womb, I put a ball in his hands,” the elder Winfield said. “I had three boys in the house. That’s all he did, play football outside, play Madden in the basement. It was football 24/7 around my house. For him, he just gravitated so quick and he loved it. I could see he had some of the same traits that I had because he caught onto the game early and I was really good, talented. But with the right guidance, I could’ve been so much better and I knew that for him. So I taught him from 4 or 5 years old. He was out there doing cone drills, ladder drills, backpedaling, and you see the results.”

Related: Bucs’ Antoine Winfield Jr. ready for first NFL start against Drew Brees

Winfield Sr. was a playmaker, finishing his career in 2012 with 27 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles in 193 games. Not only did he intercept Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, but he had a sack/fumble against Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Every night, father and son talk and review about an hour of practice tape.

“I was down there two weeks ago. But now that they’re game-planning, I saw the films for first and second down. Tonight was third down. We’re breaking down maybe an hour of film every night,” dad said.

Winfield Jr. can only hope to do as well as his pops.

“There’s a lot of quarterbacks that are still playing that I can give a scouting report on,” Winfield Sr. said. “Football was my world. Football was my love. I could sit around all day and watch football. High school, college, it doesn’t matter. I just love the game. But for him, that’s why I work with him.”

Winfield Jr. and tackle Tristan Wirfs will start as rookies for the Bucs on Sunday. Both will have to play well for the Bucs to win.

“I know he just got there, he hasn’t played a game yet, but Tampa, you just drafted a very special young man and a great player,” Winfield Sr. said.

Who didn’t want to play with Brady?

General manager Jason Licht, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady during a break in the action on Sept. 3.
General manager Jason Licht, left, talks with quarterback Tom Brady during a break in the action on Sept. 3. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Tom Brady would not have left the cool of New England for the humidity of Tampa Bay had there not been something drawing him here besides the surf and sunsets. He saw talented players on offense — lots of them. He also knew the Bucs had a coach who knew a thing or two about Super Bowl quarterbacks.

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But once Brady agreed to a two-year, $50 million contract, life got a little easier for the Bucs and general manager Jason Licht.

Players such as tight end Rob Gronkowski and running backs LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette suddenly put the Bucs ahead of any other teams in the NFL interested in their services. Even quarterback Josh Rosen, a first-round pick of the Cardinals two years ago, agreed to join the Bucs as a practice squad member to study under Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

“It’s been great. There have been some opportunities that may not have been there in the past,” Licht said. "I think Tom has a lot to do with that, obviously. But I think we have a lot of good football players here on this team and it’s why Tom probably chose us.

“We made some moves which we thought would’ve been good in any year. We’ve got a lot of talent, but it takes more than talent to win.”

Related: Bucs about to learn the price of winning with Tom Brady

Brady, 43, has raised the standard in terms of work ethic and attention to detail with the franchise. Players either match it or fall by the wayside.

“One thing that strikes me is that he doesn’t look like he’s any older,” said Licht, who worked for the Patriots' front office when they drafted Brady in the sixth round in 2000. "Actually, his arm looks stronger than we saw last year on tape. His work ethic is unbelievable and we keep saying this word, but he sets such a high standard that you find out if guys can keep up with it or if they’re not quite ready. I think everybody on this team wants to reach that standard. You’ve got some young guys that are learning on the fly here.

“I think we said this when we signed him, whenever he’s done — let’s say five years from now — that standard will remain with this team.”

All that said, the Bucs aren’t completely sure what to expect at New Orleans.

“We’re not crowning ourselves champions yet by any means,” Licht said. "We still haven’t seen our team go against anybody but our own selves. That’s what makes Week 1 very interesting.”

No longer Famous

Jameis Winston no longer is the quarterback of the Bucs. Instead, he joined the NFC South rival Saints.
Jameis Winston no longer is the quarterback of the Bucs. Instead, he joined the NFC South rival Saints. [ GERALD HERBERT | Associated Press ]

Jameis Winston joined the Saints to learn from what he described as the Harvard of quarterback schools.

He will begin the season third in his class, however, behind starter Brees and backup Taysom Hill.

Hill is used on other roles, as a fullback, receiver and tight end in certain schemes. So it wouldn’t be surprising that if something happened to Brees that was long-term, he might leap-frog Hill at some point.

Related: Breaking down the Bucs’ NFC South foes: It starts with the quarterbacks

“He’s come in here very quickly and adjusted,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s picked up very quickly what we’re doing offensively. He certainly looks lean. He’s in outstanding shape. And I think for us, he’s been a real good addition. ... Each day he has a smile on his face, he’s working hard, moving around. And there’s a presence about him I think is good for the quarterback position, and I think the room has been fantastic with Drew and Taysom and (Winston) in there. But obviously, when you’re learning a new scheme, he’s someone that picks it up fairly quickly and I think I’ve been really impressed that way. I’m glad he’s here with us.”

As for his quarterback education? "They haven’t short-changed me on bit,” Winston said.