After capping off one of the greatest freshman seasons of all time with a BCS National Championship, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston looks to baseball and, on the football side, improving his game. Even after a stellar year, the quarterback must continue to sharpen his decision-making process, footwork and pocket presence.
On the surface, Winston accomplished all he could in just his first season of college football. From an achievement standpoint, there's not much more for the quarterback to do at the college level, as B/R's Dan Levy points out.
But, as far as his game goes, the quarterback's third year in Tallahassee will be different from the first two. The first year was about gaining command of the offense and pushing to understand how head coach Jimbo Fisher wanted him to play. Year two was about finally stepping out of the redshirt shadow and into the spotlight. It was about the kid handling the car once he was given the keys.
As Winston balances baseball and spring football in the coming months, his third season will be about taking the next step at the position. This year, the nation watched Johnny Manziel go from playmaker to quarterback, and in 2014, Winston will be looking to make a leap of his own. The Seminoles signal-caller is already one of the nation's best pocket quarterbacks, and his next step will be growing his consistency in the little elements of the game.
Winston's initial drops are fantastic. He is a quarterback who gains ground on his steps away from the center, and he stands tall as he gets to the top of his drop. However, as the game happens around him, he is still working on sliding within the pocket:
His redshirt freshman campaign showcased a big kid in the pocket. That size and the ability to do things like that against Maryland led to Winston sticking in the mix longer than he should. Against Boston College, instead of stepping up here, the quarterback hangs in the pocket without moving up, allowing Kasim Edebali to get the sack:
Winston's clock runs a little slower than other quarterbacks because he's big enough to shake off tacklers. Moving into 2014, look for him to sharpen his clock, feel pressure coming from the edge or the interior, and respond accordingly. Although he will never be as elusive as other, quicker passers, he does have the athleticism and ability to move within the pocket and give himself space to make plays.
Fisher's quarterback has the skills and has shown the ability; it is simply a focus and consistency issue with Winston. The improvements in footwork will elevate his pocket presence and lead to the Seminoles surrendering fewer sacks than in 2013. With the offensive line going through some transition, it will be paramount for the quarterback to get his internal clock up and running.
The other big push for Winston will come in his decision-making process. Decision-making is not simply about interceptions. He only threw 10 picks in 2013, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-to-1 is admirable.
Rather, for Winston, decision-making speaks to him making up his mind and sticking to it. Here, against Miami, people notice the interception, but the issue is Winston's double-clutch in throwing the ball that creates the problem.
The hitch in his throw gives the high safety a chance to break on the ball, and as the ball comes out on the second attempt, the defender is in good position to make a play. The hesitation is merely indecision. The same thing happens when Winston is trying to decide whether to run the ball or stay behind the line to push it down the field with his arm.
Winston has to work to apply the same decision-making process that he has in the face of the blitz to his regular passing scenarios. The redshirt freshman showed no indecision as teams brought extra rushers, and he also was poised in working the two-minute drill for the quick passing game. That approach has to carry over to his play action and standard five-step drop work.
When Winston is going to throw, he needs to let the ball fly. When he elects to run, there is no need to hesitate and look one more time to pass; just get on the horse and get down the field. Whether it is run or pass, the point is for Winston to decrease some of the indecision and improve his footwork. Both will lead to even more success and fewer sacks.
Entering the 2014 season, the Seminoles quarterback will sit at or near the top of the quarterback heap. Making small improvements to his game will likely be the final push that cements him as the top player at his position for the 2015 draft.