Florida State: 5 Things Jameis Winston Can Improve This Offseason
It's difficult to imagine what Jameis Winston can do for an encore in 2014, as his 2013 was arguably the single greatest campaign ever put together by a Florida State quarterback.
Individually, he led the country in passer efficiency rating (184.9) and set FBS records for passing yards (4,057) and passing touchdowns (40) for a freshman, which resulted in him winning the Heisman Trophy by a wide margin. As a team, the Seminoles went 14-0, romped through the ACC and captured the program's third national championship, with Winston throwing the game-winning TD pass in the final minute of the BCS title game.
Were he eligible for the NFL draft in May, a convincing case can be made that the 6'4", 228-pounder would be selected No.1 overall ahead of more experienced QB prospects Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.
Nevertheless, six Heisman-winning signal-callers returned to school after taking home college football's most prestigious honor (Ty Detmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and the aforementioned Manziel), and not one finished better than third the next year. Most of them, as a matter of fact, underperformed the following season—either individually, as a team or both—and nobody from that list went on to become a difference-maker in the pros.
While criticizing Winston's on-the-field performance is nitpicking to say the least, here are five things the Hueytown (Ala.) High School product can do to become all the more unstoppable under center.
Take What the Defense Gives Him
Even though Winston only threw 10 interceptions in 14 games, which is certainly an acceptable amount for a vertical passing attack like the one coach Jimbo Fisher employs, the majority of them came when he took unnecessary chances downfield.
It's hard to blame him, especially with a physical mismatch like Kelvin Benjamin at his disposal, but opponents for the most part are going to give the 'Noles receiving corps a lot of cushion off the line in an attempt to prevent the big play. Now that Benjamin has departed early for the NFL, Winston doesn't have a 6'5", 234-pound freak of nature that towers over every corner and safety in the nation—rising sophomore receiver Isaiah Jones is 6'4" and 200 pounds but hasn't proven a thing yet.
Remember, the play that jump-started the game-winning drive in the BCS National Championship against Auburn was little more than a simple curl route to Rashad Greene, who made two Tigers miss on his way to a 49-yard gain.
Better Protect Himself When Running
Winston is a pretty good athlete, evidenced by the fact that he's also a contributor on the Florida State baseball team, but he's far from a dangerous runner with the ball in his hands and doesn't make many tacklers miss.
He did manage 219 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in addition to his prolific passing totals, although he only averaged 2.5 yards per carry—even if sacks count as rushing attempts in college football, that is still an unimpressive number—and hasn't perfected the art of sliding when enemy defenders are within striking distance. Winston isn't a quarterback in a tight end's body like Cam Newton, meaning linebackers don't just bounce off of him upon impact.
Especially with highly regarded backup Jacob Coker now officially leaving the Seminoles to enroll at Alabama, a preventable injury to Winston can single-handedly destroy FSU's chances of repeating.
Throw the Ball Away When Necessary
A sack is not necessarily a bad thing for a quarterback, even on third down, as any coach will take one over an interception or a fumble.
Because his footwork is still a bit raw and he's not overly nimble in the pocket, Winston does have a penchant for getting sacked more than most 'Noles fans would like to see—he went down four times in the BCS title game alone. While some of the blame can be shifted to the system he's operating since Fisher calls for a lot of downfield patterns that take time to develop, if No. 5 is feeling pressure before the wideout makes his last cut on a post-corner, then he needs to either find a checkdown or throw the ball away.
True, a few of Winston's most highlight-worthy efforts this past season were the result of him somehow avoiding what looked to be a sure sack, but those plays are outliers from the scheme.
Dial Back His Emotions Between Plays
Off the field, Winston is about as loosey-goosey as a young man in his position can be, constantly smiling, laughing with his teammates and refusing to take himself too seriously.
However, in the heat of moment, he's not afraid to get in the face of an opponent after a big play or whine to an official if Florida State doesn't get a call—Fisher, in return, has been forced to grab his prized passer by the facemask every now and then in order to set him straight. Winston does a tremendous job of making sure the other 10 players in the huddle are focused between snaps and not allowing their emotions to spin out of control, this despite being a first-year starter.
The Bessemer, Ala., native would be wise to dial it down a notch himself because now he's a marked man, plus some officials have an itchy trigger finger when throwing unsportsmanlike-conduct flags.
Be Extra Careful on the Baseball Field
As previously mentioned, Winston is also a big part of the Florida State baseball team, which makes a lot of Seminole supporters quite nervous heading into spring.
He hit .235 as a reserve outfielder last year and posted a 3.00 ERA as a relief pitcher, and at this point Winston is scheduled to be the closer out of the bullpen this season for coach Mike Martin. While it remains to be seen if he's a fixture in the lineup, the hard-throwing right-hander—his fastball routinely touches the mid-90s—will certainly make his way to the mound fairly regularly.
Even if Fisher has signed off on his quarterback continuing his exploits on the diamond, he might regret that decision the first time Winston heads back to the clubhouse nursing a sore elbow.