TAMPA — There is a lot less to dislike about Jameis Winston this season. For instance, he's down to a svelte 230 pounds and falling, making him a fraction of the quarterback that took the NFL by storm.
You remember a year ago, when Winston was the most polarizing presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft in, well, maybe ever?
Revered or reviled, he came into One Buc Place toting enough baggage to fill his own carousel. He was told to split reps with Mike Glennon, that rookies were to be seen and not heard, repeating how ''blessed'' he was to be surrounded by so many leaders that you kept looking for the pull string in his back.
But after watching Winston pass for 4,024 yards and total 28 touchdowns (22 passing, six rushing), plus a couple of TD passes in the Pro Bowl, and pick up his Pepsi Rookie of the Year award (in fan voting) at Super Bowl 50, the Bucs aren't even trying to conceal the real face of their franchise.
"Jameis is very perceptive about not only what he needs to get better but what our offense and our team needs to get better," coach Dirk Koetter said. "That's one of the things when you're around him more, he's mature way beyond his years with that sort of thing. The reason I got a smile is because that's a good thing for the Bucs."
How important is Winston to the Bucs? Put it this way. If he chugs a drink too quickly, the whole team will get the hiccups.
That's why the Bucs trotted Winston out before the media on the first day of offseason workouts Monday.
The first thing you will notice is that the guy has spent some time in the gym. Remember the unflattering picture of the boiler above his belt prior to the NFL scouting combine last year? Winston isn't going to be on any muscle magazine covers, but he is perceptively leaner. Koetter said this spring he would look out his office window at 7:30 in the morning to spy Winston alone on the practice field, running sprints, a parachute strapped to his waist for resistance.
Winston said he was struck by the physical conditioning maintained by fellow Pro Bowl players such as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Falcons receiver Julio Jones. So when he returned from Hawaii, he hired Tim Grover, Michael Jordan's former trainer, and has worked out with him once a month along with regular sessions with Bucs strength coach Dave Kennedy.
"I do believe I get better every single day and I look good," Winston said.
Koetter told Winston he wanted him to have a better chemistry with receiver Mike Evans. So Winston started hanging out with him on and off the field, organizing off-campus throwing sessions to work on the deep ball.
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"Everywhere I'm at, he's trying to find me, see what I'm doing," Evans said. "He wants to hang out, he wants to go throw all the time, so he's doing the right things and he's a workaholic."
Winston wouldn't let Evans do all the running. "He goes out there and he'll run a 50-yard route, I will sprint 50 yards down the field, wherever he had caught the ball," Winston said.
It's hard to imagine the Bucs could duplicate the success they had in the 2015 draft when they selected four starters, including tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet and linebacker Kwon Alexander. But Winston is eager to welcome the new players.
"Because I know when I came in, a lot of people have their guard up because they don't know what to expect," Winston said.
Finally, there is a spirituality to Winston that wasn't as prevalent last season. He was baptized with his girlfriend, Breion Allen, at a Pro Athletes Outreach event last month in Colorado Springs. On Monday, he quoted Bible Scripture when asked about his leadership style.
"If you're trying to push leadership on guys, that guy is not going to want to follow you," Winston said. "Me and the Chaplain, Doug (Gilcrease), we were talking about biblically what leadership means. Leadership means to serve others. As long I as I can serve the guys around me, I feel like I'm doing a good job of being a leader to them and I know they will do anything for me just like I will for them."
Monday marked five months to the day before the regular-season opener, only the first step in a new journey.
"It was good to see everybody coming in excited and I was very excited for Coach Koetter," Winston said. "He made a big statement in there in the team room and we're just pumped, man. We're ready to get this thing going."
Make no mistake, only Winston can lead them.