Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston spoke to Peter King of The MMQB on Tuesday about a rookie season that had its ups and downs and ultimately ended with the firing of head coach Lovie Smith after the team finished 6-10.
Winston's biggest takeaway from the year was the importance of protecting the football:
When you turn the ball over in the NFL, you don’t know when you are going to get that chance back. At Florida State, I knew that I was going to get that chance back, because we were one of the better teams in college football. We were going to get another chance, so that turnover wouldn’t kill us. Whereas in the NFL, everyone is good, so you never know when you are going to get that chance back. In the NFL, you have to take advantage of every opportunity that you get, and if you don’t, you’ll usually lose.
Winston, who threw for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and completed 58.3 percent of his passes, will be looking to cut down on the turnovers in his second season. He started a bit rocky, throwing seven interceptions in his first four games, though he improved after that, throwing just eight picks in the team's last 12 games.
He also spoke about his evolution as a leader on the Bucs team. He praised the Bucs veterans for giving him a voice and allowing him to be himself throughout the season:
One thing I always do in the huddle, pre-snap, is make eye contact. Just trying to see what is going on in their minds. When I step in that huddle, those guys just look at you. With me, there was no sign of nervousness. I was very confident. [Veterans] Logan Mankins and Vince [Jackson] made me confident. They allowed me to come in and be a voice, and they didn’t say, "No, don’t do that." They just allowed me to become a better player and leader.
He also cited the tragedy that Kwon Alexander suffered during the season—Alexander's brother was shot and killed two days before the team played Atlanta on Nov. 1—as a moment that brought the team together, as it rallied around him.
Winston credited both then-offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian for improving his fundamentals and helping him develop a consistent routine throughout the season.
Nonetheless, the season had its peaks and valleys. One particular valley was a four-interception game against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 4. Winston decided to tweak some things after that contest:
I said, ‘I’ve just gotta chill.’ I loved coming to work every day, and I loved being a leader. And I felt like there was no way to lead this team when I am the main cause for our failure, and that’s the way I viewed it—that I was the main cause for our failure early in the season. So I felt like I had to make a change in me.
Adjusting to change is a huge part of the NFL, both on the field and on the business side of things. Winston learned that lesson when Smith was fired after the season, a move that shocked the young quarterback:
I thought that me and coach Lovie were going to be together for my whole career. You only can dream of that. But it didn’t happen. I have to support coach Koetter, and I’m happy that he is the coach instead of anybody else. But I am always going to keep in touch with coach Lovie because he is such a great man, and he gave me the opportunity to play. I don’t know anything about the business part of the game. I just go out there and I play.
That's why the Bucs made him the No. 1 overall pick in last year's NFL draft—to go out there and play, and to play well.
The biggest lesson Winston learned about playing well was to keep things simple: "Something that coach Koetter taught me that really helped me with my whole game: Just do the simple things. I’m such a passionate player, I always want to make big plays and I always want to have excitement. It seems so cliche saying this, but do the simple things and you’ll be OK."
Indeed, Winston seems capable of being much more than OK at the NFL level. His rookie season was promising, if inconsistent, and after one year, the Buccaneers have to feel as if they made the right pick. Winston and the Bucs will be transitioning to a new head coach in Koetter this season, but the future seems bright in Tampa Bay with Winston at the helm.
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