How the Buccaneers plan to get the most out of Jameis Winston


Saving Jameis

Tuesday: Bucs (Tampa).

Heat index: 102 degrees.

Camp name I loved: Vincent Testaverde. Vinny’s kid, who played college quarterback at Albany and high school quarterback less than two miles away from the Bucs facility in Tampa, is a camp arm. He’ll have to shine in preseason garbage time to climb the depth chart here.

Guy I totally forgot would be in this camp till I saw the roster: Deone Bucannon. The hybrid safety/linebacker reunites with former Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, now the Bucs DC. Amazing to see that Bucannon is just 26. Feels like he’s been in the league 10 years.

Favorite factoid: This has to be the most diverse coaching staff in NFL history. Thirty coaches. Eleven are African-American, including all three coordinators. Two are women.

TAMPA, Fla – It’s 6:27 p.m. It’s hot, the kind of heat for an extended period that makes a person think: Why’d I ever pick this line of work, and why did I choose to do this work in Tampa in late July? But here are the Bucs, practicing for two hours and 27 minutes in it. At least I get to find shade. There’s 90 players and 30 coaches out here in the unrelenting sun, and two hours and four minutes into the practice, Jameis Winston threw a pick and chased the picker down; sprinted 60 yards and tried to tackle the guy. I mean, these guys are working.

As the offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich, came off the field, he stopped to talk for a minute. When I say it looked like he had a drippy faucet running down both cheeks and his chin, I am not exaggerating. The man was drenched. And he was out there coaching, not playing.

“We are being real about this,” Leftwich said. “This is old-school football around here. This is how it’s got to be.”

One coaching staff already got fired because, among other things, coaches couldn’t turn the franchise quarterback around. The first pick in the 2015 draft, Jameis Winston, is in his crucial fifth season here. If Bruce Arians and Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christianson can fix him and eliminate some of the mindless errors on his pro résumé, then Winston gets signed to a rich deal and leads this team into the future. If not, well, it’s likely the Bucs go to market again, searching for the elusive franchise quarterback they’ve never really had in the 43-year history of the team.

Arians thinks Winston has had the weight of the first overall pick on his shoulders, and that’s been part of the problem. (Winston in four years: 21 wins, .616 completion rate, 88-to-58 TD-to-interception ratio. Mediocre at best.) Arians has stressed to Winston, even on the field during practice, to think about being one man of 22, to not overdo the leadership thing or the pressure thing. In all ways, he wants Winston to take the checkdown.

“Twenty-one other guys are gonna play their tails off with you,” Arians said in his office before practice. “You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to fit a ball into a window. Just dump it to the back. Learn to take your checkdowns. Don’t try to be Superman on every play because you were the number one pick in the draft. You don’t have to be elite. Just play quarterback.

“He’s finally [getting] it. You dump it off to the back 30 more times a year instead of throwing it into a pigeonhole, you’ll throw for 300 more yards in this game without the mistakes. And you see the light go on. He’s got so much pride, and this team hasn’t won, and the quarterback gets a lot of blame, and the coach gets fired, and he take a lot of responsibility for it.”

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