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Jameis Winston's next step: The deep ball

Jameis Winston enters the season opener for the Bucs against the Chicago Bears Sunday at Raymond James Stadium as the only NFL player to pass for more than 4,000 yards each of the past two seasons. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times
]
Jameis Winston enters the season opener for the Bucs against the Chicago Bears Sunday at Raymond James Stadium as the only NFL player to pass for more than 4,000 yards each of the past two seasons. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times ]
Published Sep. 16, 2017

TAMPA — Even though he has the arm for it, the long ball was one of Jameis Winston's few short-comings.

But deep passes, defined by those that travel at least 20 yards through the air, will be back for the Bucs this season.

Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFL that didn't have an offensive play of 50 yards or more last season. That led to the signing of DeSean Jackson to a three-year, $30.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed.

Jackson was one of the best home run hitters in 2016 with 16 catches of passes of at least 20 yards.

A year ago, Winston completed 22 of 69 deep passes for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns. Six of those passes were intercepted, but some of those throws — like the one in Week 16 at New Orleans — was the result of a poor decision.

Most of those plays were intended for Mike Evans, who has good speed but wins with his size and strength. Evans will still get his share of deep balls.

Quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian says Winston has worked to improve on the deep ball, but there still are routes that need work.

"Having a guy like DeSean Jackson who can run it down, especially on the deep balls, gives you a little more margin for error in that you can throw it further out there and know he's going to run after it," Bajakian said.

Jackson has impressed players and coaches with his rare ability to track the football in the air without losing speed.

"It's unbelievable. And he can do it without breaking stride," Bajakian said. "Even when he has to turn his head."

The Bucs did not attempt a deep ball to Jackson in the preseason. He ran mostly curls, hitches and various in-routes.

"What we have seen so far, we like," offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken said. "Now we've got to do it on Sunday."

Ward's workload

Safety T.J. Ward will have only had five practices and a walk-through by the time he lines up for the Sunday.

Look for Ward to see plenty of action against the Bears, who utilize a good running back 1-2 punch with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Ward excels against the run, so much so that he could start.

Beckwith's quick comeback

One of the more remarkable stories is rookie Kendell Beckwith, the LSU linebacker who tore his ACL in a game against Florida last November. He played well enough in the preseason to win the starting job at strong side linebacker and is the backup middle linebacker.

"It's a big deal," Beckwith said. "It was a goal of mine. I want to make sure I keep it. Being a part of this group with Lavonte (David) and Kwon (Alexander), it's impressive. I got to make sure I match them."

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

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