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Jameis Winston gives final glimpse of ups and downs ahead

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws to receivers during pre-game warmups at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday in Tampa (08/29/15). The Buccaneers will host the Cleveland Browns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws to receivers during pre-game warmups at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday in Tampa (08/29/15). The Buccaneers will host the Cleveland Browns.
Published Aug. 30, 2015

TAMPA — Jameis Winston walked up to the line of scrimmage facing third and 11 at his 24. No sooner had the ball been snapped than he was under siege from a swarming Cleveland blitz. Pressured and perplexed, Winston carelessly threw a ball up for grabs, and Browns cornerback Charles Gaines grabbed it.

Awful decision. Dreadful throw. Horrible result.

Just minutes later, on his next pass, Winston dropped back into a well-protected pocket, surveyed his prospects and confidently fired a dart to sprinting Vincent Jackson for a 26-yard gain.

Smart decision. Perfect throw. Solid result.

And there you have it, the tale of two throws, the good and bad of what the rookie quarterback had to offer Saturday night in the Bucs' 31-7 blowout preseason loss to the Browns.

And there you have it, the tale of Winston's preseason. Some of it good. Some of it bad. Some of it special. Some of it ugly.

This is going to take some time, folks. Winston might turn into a franchise quarterback someday, but it's not going to happen soon.

That's not a knock against Winston. That's simply the reality of the situation.

"My goal is to always get better every game," Winston said. "I'm never satisfied. There's always a way to get better."

Winston's play Saturday was ragged. The numbers were not pretty. He completed 6 of 15 passes for 90 yards, with an interception and a 32.6 QB rating. It was the most disappointing of his three starts.

"I like what he has done in the games," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "But (Saturday) he was a part of a bad effort that we had as a football team."

It wasn't all his fault. He spent far too much of his night avoiding a Cleveland rush that was barely slowed by a Bucs offensive line that remains the team's biggest concern heading into the season.

So that should be it for Winston's preseason. Presumably, Saturday was his final dress rehearsal before the regular season. There is one final exhibition game, Thursday in Miami, but traditionally the key starters don't play in the preseason finale for fear of injury.

Despite his mixed-bag preseason and his clunker performance Saturday, it would be idiotic to play Winston in Miami. The risk far outweighs the reward. Playing a dozen snaps in a game that no one cares about is not going to get Winston any more prepped for the season.

Now is the time for Winston to walk to the end of the diving board and jump.

So what kind of splash will he make as an NFL quarterback? Well, we won't know the complete answer to that question for a few years. Winston's future cannot be predicted on the basis of three preseason games. But we have had a sneak peek at what Winston's short-term future might look like based on those three preseason games.

So, for 2015, what do the Bucs have at quarterback?

There is promise, yet there are questions. There is optimism, yet there is skepticism. There is reason to hope for exceptional moments, but there are expectations that those moments will be interrupted by blunders and setbacks.

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He will make you go "wow" and make you go "huh?" You will praise him and curse him. Sometimes you will think he is on his way to being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and other times you will be convinced he is the worst.

That's exactly what you get — and what you should expect — when you are the worst franchise in the NFL and you hand the keys to the franchise to a 21-year-old kid who played only two years of college football.

Exceptional doesn't happen overnight in this league. Special takes time, practice, patience.

This one preseason proves only that one preseason isn't enough to prepare a kid for what he will face when the games count.

Winston's preseason could be going way better. His numbers are mediocre at best. He has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (23-of-47) for 311 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

But his preseason could be going way worse. He never has appeared in over his head.

In the end, what does it all mean?

Winston will struggle because he is supposed to struggle. He will make boneheaded plays because rookies make boneheaded plays. He will throw picks and take sacks and do dumb things.

"You just (have to) realize that with young players, you're going to make some mistakes," Smith said.

But Winston will do good things, too. He will direct scoring drives and throw touchdown passes and make plays.

He just won't do it often, and he won't do it consistently, at least for now.

This is going to take time. That's what the preseason has shown us. It will take time for Winston to develop into the quarterback the Bucs need him to be.

Don't get too high or low based on the preseason. Don't be discouraged by Saturday's dud.

After all, this isn't a short story. It's a long novel. We've read only the introduction.

There's a lot more of this tale to be written.

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