Jameis Winston is embracing his role as the face of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If there were any lingering questions about him unquestionably being the leader of the team, the young quarterback is putting them to rest as he prepares for his second NFL season.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie, helping the Bucs triple their victory total from the previous year.
It wasn’t enough to save the job of former coach Lovie Smith, who was fired after a 6-10 finish, however the 22-year-old’s success spawned optimism that an eight-year playoff drought could end soon.
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“He sets the tone for our team,” first-year head coach Dirk Koetter said. “We have a lot of good football players on our team, but from a leadership standpoint, Jameis sets the tone.”
With Winston and running back Doug Martin (Boise State), who rushed for 1,402 yards, leading the way, the Bucs ranked a franchise best fifth in total offense year ago.
Tampa Bay spent most of the past six seasons building around four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in hopes of escaping the NFC South cellar.
This offseason, McCoy said he quietly passed the torch to Winston during a private conversation.
“The face of the franchise came to me and said, ‘Hey listen, if we’re going to win we need you to do this’. Our quarterback said this is what he needs, this is what I’m going to do,” McCoy said, declining to provide specific details about what the players discussed.
“If he feels like that’s what our team needs in order for us to win, who am I to tell him, ‘No, I’m not going to do that?' I want to win too,” McCoy added. “ He’s an intelligent guy, young or not. Very mature, very intelligent. He sits back and he watches and analyzes and he’s seeing something that he feels like I can do to help this team be better. It’s not hard to do, it’s a matter of me just doing it.”
Winston didn’t shed much light on the conversation either, saying he simply encouraged McCoy to “continue to step up, continue to be who you are” — an accomplished player with a strong voice, on and off the field.
“I just talked to him after the season, just to get his insight on how I was as a leader,” the quarterback said. “I believe Gerald is a great leader to this team, and he’s not the only leader that we’ve got. I just know that he has a little bit more in him.”
Koetter is just excited that the Bucs, who went 2-14 two years ago and haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, are talking among themselves about leadership at all.
The coach added it’s been fun watching Winston’s mature and grow since entering the league.
“It jumps out at you,” Koetter, Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator a year ago, said of the quarterback asserting himself more this camp. “Jameis is a special guy. I might have been one of the last people on board, but I’m fully on board now and it’s nice. It’s a great thing to have.”
Linebacker Lavonte David likes what he’s seen, too.
“It was something I expected. … From the first day he got here, he showed why he was that No. 1 pick,” David said. “He’s going to keep getting better and better.”