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Defining Jameis Winston's Year 3 challenge

 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is surrounded by media at Bucs' training camp Friday, July 28, 2017,  in Tampa. He's also surrounded by expectations this season. He's entering his third season, a time when quarterbacks of his pedigree take the next step and lead their teams to the playoffs. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is surrounded by media at Bucs' training camp Friday, July 28, 2017, in Tampa. He's also surrounded by expectations this season. He's entering his third season, a time when quarterbacks of his pedigree take the next step and lead their teams to the playoffs. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published July 30, 2017

TAMPA — Jameis Winston is about goose bumps, not speed bumps. He's not slowing down for anyone. The charismatic quarterback of the Bucs refuses to quit on a play. He's always thinking touchdown over check down.

It has served him well in his first two NFL seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He had back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons. He took his team from two to six to nine wins.

But if Winston is as special as he appears to be, this is the year he will end a nine-year playoff drought.

If not now, when?

"This roster is amazing," Winston said following the Bucs first training camp practice Friday. "It makes this whole team better, not just me. Because as they go, I go. As I go, we go."

If you look at other quarterbacks taken high in the first round, guys like Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck or even Peyton Manning, the third season is when it started to click.

In nearly every case, they threw more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, and completed a higher percentage. And they all took their teams into the playoffs.

"There's been a lot said and written about that third year thing," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. "Even though I've coached for a long time, you don't have a lot of guys where I coached them for three years. So I don't really know that. I just think the way Jameis works, Jameis is going to get better and better.

"I go back to this all the time: Tom Brady (turns 40 Thursday), Drew Brees (38), Matt Ryan, 32. Jameis Winston, 23. Okay? He's going to get better. I don't how much this year or how much next year. But he's going to get better."

Winston has always arrived ahead of schedule. As a redshirt freshman, he led Florida State to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy. The next season, he had the Seminoles in the national semifinal.

The fact that Winston came to the worst team in the NFL and underwent a head coaching change after his first season made the hurdle higher. But this off-season, the Bucs added DeSean Jackson and rookies O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin.

"It's fun. Just taking the snap and analyzing the field and seeing that you've got guys that can go get it everywhere." Winston said.

It doesn't seem that long ago that the Bucs had another quarterback coming off an excellent second season in which his team won 10 games and he threw 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

Josh Freeman took a step back the next two seasons, the coach was fired and he was released three games into 2013.

Winston's ability, leadership and intangibles are certainly better than Freeman's. But when you're special, it shows up much sooner than later at that position in the NFL.

For all of Winston's early success, his 42 turnovers — 33 interceptions and nine lost fumbles — have been his Achilles heel. "Protecting the football is always a must...I'm going to get better at that," Winston said. "We have a lot of things to earn.

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"I can't speak on what history has proven. I want to be a great leader to this team, I want to serve my teammates and I want to win. Everything is a process and everyone loves winning. When you win, this community just jumps behind you and there's no telling how good we can be with them behind us."

It's hard to imagine a team having more belief in its quarterback unless their name was Brady, Rodgers, Ryan or Newton.

"With these new weapons, he's going to be an even better player than he already is," receiver Mike Evans said. "He's just a great leader.... and this year he's going to explode."

But quarterbacks are ultimately judged by their postseason success. If Winston is truly special, he'll join some of the best in the game and carry his team over their goal of reaching it.

This year.

"This game is about creating opportunities and who knows what can happen when you get into the playoffs," Winston said. "Anything can happen. When you think about all the wild-card teams that barely got in and end up winning the Super Bowl. That's just the goal. The goal is to get there and after we get there, the goal is to win the Super Bowl."

Contact Rick Stroud at stroudbuc@aol.com.Follow @NFLStroud