Bucs GM optimistic about Jameis Winston, rest of rookie class

Jason Licht
Jason Licht
Published July 29, 2015

TAMPA — The Bucs are prepared for their 2015 season to be wild and unpredictable — a little like the right arm of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

But according to general manager Jason Licht, who hopes Winston's mistakes will be kept to a minimum, the No. 1 pick in the draft has energized the entire organization.

"I think if you look at the history of all rookie quarterbacks, most of them, a high percentage of them, throw a lot of interceptions," Licht said Tuesday. "I'd be remiss to not say we're not expecting some ups and downs but we're doing everything we can to minimize them as much as possible."

Winston and the other Bucs rookies reported to training camp Monday. The full squad will arrive Friday and the first practice is Saturday morning.

Licht said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is the face of the franchise and Winston respects that. However, he said Winston has added a spark that excites the veterans.

"We had a lot of players coming up to (coach) Lovie (Smith) and myself giving us their opinion on who they wanted (in the draft) and it was pretty overwhelming (Winston)," Licht said. "It's always good when they're excited about it.

"He's got that kind of spark to him. Now, he still has to play. He hasn't played a snap yet. What does he say? 'Real recognizes real.' They just see it."

Other rookies also have a lot of expectations. Tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet, both second-round picks, might start. Kenny Bell, a fifth-rounder from Nebraska, might emerge as the third receiver.

Licht said he has been impressed by the rookie draft class.

"A lot of times this time of year, you have some concerns about one — whether one looks as fast as you thought they were or if one is as athletic as you thought they were or as smart or they just come in with a poor attitude," Licht said. "There's no sign of that. I'm not saying they're all going to make the team for sure and that they're all going to be starters. But they're all on the right track."

Starting two rookie offensive linemen in front of a rookie quarterback could be a dangerous cocktail in the NFL. But Licht noted that the Bucs have leadership from veterans, starting with guard Logan Mankins, on the offensive line.

Mankins was acquired in a trade 10 days before the 2014 regular-season opener. Licht said it was hard for Mankins to come in and lead the line then, but now he's "the father of the locker room.'' Mankins sent Licht a text during the Patriots' Super Bowl win over Seattle saying he's never been so motivated to ''kick some (tail) this season."

Winston only lost one game in two seasons at Florida State and won a national championship as a freshman, throwing 40 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. But last season, that ratio was 25 to 18.

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"We're going to do our best, and the coaching staff, to make sure the weight of the world is not on (Winston)," Licht said. "It's going to take great defense, it's going to take a lot of other things in the offense, not just him. He's going to be a pivotal part of that when he's playing. But it's going to take more than that.

"Let's be honest, there is a lot of pressure on the guy, but to me, he's proven that he can handle pressure. I think he's done a phenomenal job. He never came in and said, "Hey, look at me, I'm the leader.' Until he's the starter, he's not the starter. He's actually been a little quieter than I thought he was going to be."