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Fennelly: Jameis Winston grows as leading Bucs' force

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice at One Buc Place in Tampa, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice at One Buc Place in Tampa, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.
Published Jul. 28, 2016

TAMPA

Last year, on the first day of Bucs rookie minicamp, the team's top draft pick — the NFL's top draft pick — got to the facility early, so early that he stood and greeted other rookies as they stepped off the bus at One Buc Place.

And away we went.

This morning, Jameis Winston greets his second Bucs training camp. Actually, he showed up Wednesday to work with the rookies. He begins camp as a team leader, maybe the team leader. He's 22 years old. No matter.

He's the face of the franchise. No less than Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy repeated that assertion Wednesday. Whether McCoy really believes it, well, hey, he said it, didn't he?

"I just referred to him as the face of the franchise because he is," McCoy said. "When they show commercials of the Bucs, they're not showing Gerald. They're showing Jameis. That's one reason I'm happy about that. Because if your quarterback is the face of your franchise, usually that tags to winning."

Here comes Bucs camp.

Here comes Jameis.

His first NFL pass was taken back for a touchdown by the other team. He then threw for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. He ran for six more scores. He made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.

This team rides with him.

The 6-foot-4 Winston treated the offseason like that. He shed as much as 20 pounds, redistributing what was left in all the right places.

"He's walking around with his shirt off, showing his little lean body now," Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said with a smile. "He's probably feeling even more confident."

Winston's body of work in his rookie season had some memorable snapshots. There was No. 3 flying through the air with the greatest of ease for a TD against the Giants. That battering-ram run on third and 19 against the Falcons. That sweet, feathered pass to the post for a touchdown to Vincent Jackson in New Orleans. That perfectly placed deep ball to Mike Evans for a TD in Washington.

Snapshots.

Now it's time to make an entire photo album.

Maybe Winston's new head coach (and old offensive coordinator) Dirk Koetter helps make that happen. Maybe being a year older helps Winston, too. There are things to clean up.

Like Winston and the Bucs being better in the red zone. Like capitalizing on chances. The Bucs were the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL last season but finished 20th in points.

Winston completed only 14 of his 53 passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. That's a completion rate of 26 percent. Koetter loves those big-chunk passes, so Winston and his receivers, particularly Evans, better get better at hooking up.

Today is where it begins. Actually, it began not long after last season ended in a free fall. I'm sure by now that Winston and his coaches have broken down last season, every pass, interception and situation.

"That's something you don't have time to do during a first season," NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. "He's just got to refine his skills. Get better at situational football, better in the red zone, more precise with his accuracy, more control, knowing defenses. That comes with time."

Mariucci got to know Winston when he was coaching the Under Armour All-America high school all-star game. They keep in touch.

"He wasn't satisfied with what he did last year," Mariucci said. "He lost 20 pounds. He wants to be better. He acts the part. He is the part. He's the leader."

Here's an example.

"Me and Jameis had a private conversation about what he feels like this team needs me to be as a leader," McCoy said. "I'm not going to say, but I think it'll be obvious when it happens."

Can't wait. Call ahead if it involves double-digit sacks.

"Ronde (Barber) gave me the torch," McCoy said. "I didn't ask for it. He passed it to me. So, here you go, Jameis, take us to the Super Bowl, man."

Here comes camp.

Wait — there's a torch?

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