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No surprise, Jameis Winston will start for Bucs

Published Aug. 1, 2015

TAMPA — You didn't need to read the horoscopes or tarot cards or use a Magic 8 Ball to predict Jameis Winston would be named the Bucs' starting quarterback.

Tryouts ended the minute they handed in the card at the draft with Winston's name on it.

"Jameis Winston will be our starting quarterback," coach Lovie Smith said shortly after players reported to training camp Friday. "He'll take first reps (today). We're excited about that.

"A lot of things go into that. We've had a lot of evaluation of him. It's where we feel like he is, and we brought him here to be our quarterback. We feel like he's ready to take this next step."

Well, duh.

The Bucs tried to humble Winston, the No. 1 overall pick this year, in the offseason, making him alternate first-team reps with third-year pro Mike Glennon. But they don't erect billboards for backups, and Winston drove past his likeness every morning on the way to One Buc Place.

Plus, NFL owners don't buy green bananas.

Not long ago, rookie quarterbacks would ripen holding a clipboard for a year or two before taking a turn under center. But that was before head coaches were changed like socks.

Besides, Smith says, Winston, 21, has proven he can handle the scrutiny that comes with the job.

"Jameis doesn't need a mentor," Smith said. "Jameis is ready to take the reins and go with it. The mental part, the physical part, and just being a quarterback in the NFL and being able to take all the criticism that goes with that, he's ready for it.

"I feel strongly about this. We feel like we've let Jameis go through the process of the offseason, getting limited reps, working with both groups. We put him in that position, but eventually you have to put him in the lead position and let him go."

Why do it now?

For starters, Winston needs as much work as possible with the first-team offense. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter must use training camp and the preseason to tailor his scheme to Winston's strengths and weaknesses.

Seven of the past eight quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall started their teams' first regular-season games as rookies, including Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. The career of Bradford, now with the Eagles, has been derailed by knee injuries. The Panthers' Newton was the offensive rookie of the year in 2011. In 2012, the Colts' Luck went 11-5 as a rookie and lost in the AFC wild-card playoffs.

Robert Griffin III, who was picked No. 2 overall in 2012, led the Redskins to a 10-6 record and the NFC East title as a rookie. Russell Wilson, a third-rounder by the Seahawks in 2012, went 11-5 before losing in the NFC division playoffs that year.

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"They're being put into that role quicker, too," Smith said. "I've seen that from afar. I have had a rookie quarterback. It's been a while ago, but you still remember Kyle Orton. For us, a lot of it was on the coaching staff to know when to give him a certain amount, and we did that. What we did is we played great defense with a rookie quarterback, we had a great running game with him, and we asked our quarterback to do more and more each week.

"But that does not mean if we have 60 plays, we're going to run the ball 55 times. No. We expect our quarterback to function."

Winston was a prodigious talent at Florida State, leading the Seminoles to an undefeated season and the national championship while winning the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman two years ago. He lost only one game during his two-season collegiate career.

It's true Winston threw 18 interceptions last season, aiming mostly at 5-foot-11 wideout Rashad Greene. But as a freshman he had only 10 when his main target was 6-5 receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who had 1,000 yards receiving for the Panthers last year. Winston has similar big pass-catchers with the Bucs in Mike Evans (6-5), Vincent Jackson (6-5) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-5).

"Offensively, we have to do some other things a lot better around the quarterback position, mainly running the football," Smith said. "Defensively, we have to start the season the way we finished up playing defense (last year)."

Smith said he had informed Winston of the decision to make him the starter but had not addressed the team about it.

"He was excited and ready to go," Smith said. "It's not like it was a total shock to him or anything like that. We brought him here to be our starting quarterback, and he is."

The only thing that happened Friday was Smith made it official. Now it's up to Winston to make the Bucs' faith in him pay off.