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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Winston A Perfect Fit In Arians’ Offense
Part of the reason why Bruce Arians came out of retirement to become the next head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is because of his relationship with general manager Jason Licht.
Another reason was that the “stars aligned,” as Arians likes to say, and that all of his former assistant coaches became available.
But the main reason why Arians picked Tampa Bay was the chance to work with quarterback Jameis Winston, the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft – and a player that had yet to live up to his full potential with the Bucs.
Winston, whom Arians met years ago at an Alabama quarterback camp he put on while Winston was just a youth prior to heading to Florida State, has every quality the man known as “The Quarterback Whisperer” looks for in a QB. How do I know this? I read Arians’ autobiography, “The Quarterback Whisperer,” shortly after he was hired by Licht back in January and found it to be a fascinating read.
“The Quarterback Whisperer” was about Arians’ life as a young quarterback all the way up to his final years in Arizona, and chronicled all the quarterbacks he worked with from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis to Kelly Holcomb in Cleveland to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh to Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Carson Palmer in Arizona.
It’s a fantastic read, and throughout much of this edition of SR’s Fab 5 I’m going to be pulling some quotes out of Arians’ book and show how relatable they are to Winston and the year ahead for the Buccaneers.
“What does the perfect NFL quarterback look like? It begins with something you can’t see. He must have heart – a big heart, a lion’s heart, a heart that beats for an entire franchise. … Heart is exhibited when a quarterback plays through pain, when he smashes into a 320 pound defensive lineman on third down to try to gain those extra six inches for the first down, or when he throws and interception and then runs forty yard down the field to make a tackle. Whenever a quarterback puts the team above himself, that’s an expression of heart.”
If you don’t believe Winston plays with a big heart – a lion’s heart – you simply haven’t been watching Bucs football over the last four years. Winston has played through pain and chased down interceptions before. Winston is the heartbeat of the Buccaneers. The analytics nerds overlook this important trait at their own peril.
“Another trait he must have is what I call ‘grit.’ This is the ability to handle success and failure equally. … When the play doesn’t go as designed, the quarterback must not sulk, lose his temper or even convey a sense of frustration. And he sure better not let his grit waiver. … He needs to learn from what he just experienced on the field – but he needs to quickly move on and be the leader of his offense. QB’s must always – always – act like the next play is going to be a touchdown, even if they don’t truly believe it. The quarterback needs to project calm and poise and steely-eyed confidence.”
This is another important ingredient that doesn’t show up in analytics. Winston is full of grit in the fact that he’s a gunslinger who believes that his next throw will be a touchdown. Winston’s confidence did get rattled from the start last year when Dirk Koetter named Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter and made Winston “lead from behind.” At the time it seemed like a good idea, given Fitzpatrick’s hot start to the 2018 campaign, but Winston never felt comfortable until the end of the season when Fitzpatrick was no longer an option to be the starter. Winston lost his grit a few times, notably in his meltdown at Cincinnati, but regained it down the stretch.
“Another characteristic the NFL quarterback must have that you can’t see is the ability to process a vast amount of information in a short amount of time and make prudent decisions based on that intelligence. … It is now more challenging and confusing than ever to play quarterback in the NFL. … I can’t overemphasize how important it is to have a fast, fertile mind to play quarterback in the NFL. And also how important it is to have the study habits of an Ivy League doctoral student.”
Winston turned down Stanford to play at Florida State. He’s a savant when it comes to the whiteboard in the film room. No one outworks Winston in terms of preparation, whether it be in the weight room where he’s the first one in the building, or the class room, where is also the first one watching film. Work ethic can’t be coached, and it’s never been a problem for Winston dating back to before his days as a high school QB.
“Virtually all of the great NFL quarterbacks have been extroverts, guys who love being around other guys and are life-of-the-party types. You can feel their presence when they walk into a room. There are exceptions, but most often the successful quarterback is a natural-born leader, a Patton in pads.”
Does this sum up Winston or what? He was the leader of the offense the day he walked into One Buccaneer Place as a rookie. Through all of his on-field and off-field trials and tribulations his support among his teammates has never waivered. That’s the sign of a true leader. You can’t find a Bucs player that has a discouraging word to say about Winston – on or off the record. He’s their guy.
“The most important physical attribute of the ideal quarterback is the ability to throw the ball with accuracy to all parts of the field. … Of course, you want your quarterback to have a strong arm, but it’s much more important to be accurate with the ball. … By the time a college QB is twenty-one or twenty-two he either has a well-developed sense of anticipation and accuracy or he doesn’t. The cold truth is that NFL coaches can’t develop those skills.”
Winston’s accuracy has improved every year he’s been in the league from 58.3 percent as a rookie to 64.6 percent last year. If he can eclipse 66 percent this year there’s a much better chance the number of interceptions will decrease and the number of touchdowns and wins could increase. Winston is accurate enough to be winning quarterback – a playoff quarterback – in the NFL, and he has plenty of arm strength.
“Now I’m not talking about the need to be a great athlete. … An athletic NFL quarterback simply needs to be able to move in and out of the pocket. You don’t have to be fast. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would never be described as fleet-of-foot speedsters. But they can move a step or two and then be extremely accurate with their throws even if they aren’t perfectly balanced. Ben Roethlisberger has never been the quickest guy, but he can roll out and complete a throw with defenders hanging all over him.”
Since his rookie season when he set a Tampa Bay rookie record for quarterbacks with six rushing touchdowns, to last year’s career-high 281 yards rushing with a 5.7 average, Winston has displayed good athleticism from the QB position. In his Bucs career, he’s exceled at making plays on the run, scrambling laterally down the line of scrimmage and throwing the ball downfield.
CHIP ON THE SHOULDER
“A coach always wants a quarterback who has something to prove – who believes he has somehow been wronged – because he is typically going to want to do everything in his power to succeed.”
This is Winston, dating back to his Florida State days where he was accused of sexual assault, to his days in Tampa Bay after being benched by Dirk Koetter last year for the first time in his days playing quarterback. Winston hasn’t done enough yet to deserve a long-term contract extension. Instead, he’s playing in his fifth-year option and needs to prove himself this season to become the first drafted quarterback in Bucs history to receive a contract extension. Winston has everything to prove in 2020, and Arians will make sure to remind him of it often.
There are a couple of other traits that Winston has that Arians also loves in a quarterback, including the ability to be a great play-action passer. Here’s what Arians had to say about Luck in “The Quarterback Whisperer.”
“Andrew excelled at play action, and he was as gifted as any rookie I’d ever been around throwing intermediate-length anticipatory passes. One reason for his success was that no matter what happened immediately in front of him, he always kept his eyes downfield – just like all the greats who have played the position. Even when he felt the pressure of oncoming linemen and was forced out of the pocket, he always had his eyes trained on his receivers. With Andrew, a play was never really over – another trait of the truly talented NFL quarterback.”
One thing we’ve seen an awful lot of during the OTAs is deep passes down the seam in the middle of the field, whether it’s intermediate crossing routes or deep posts by wide receivers or go routes by tight ends and slot receivers. Winston exceled in hitting tight end Nick O’Leary and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Rashad Greene with big plays down the middle of the field at Florida State, and he’s had some success with those type of throws in the NFL, too.
“Andrew also was extremely accurate on the up-the-seam throws. Seam balls separate quarterbacks. A seam ball is when you have three receivers running deep routes, two on the outside and one on the inside. The seam is the throw to the inside receiver; you have to get it over the linebacker and in front of the safety. It’s one of the more difficult throws to make. A lot of quarterbacks can’t find that guy in the middle.”
Seam routes are going to be used quite a bit as Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be targeting opposing safeties and linebackers with slot receiver Chris Godwin and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, rather than always challenging a team’s top cover cornerbacks on the outside, as Winston was often asked to do in Dirk Koetter’s offense.
On paper and on tape, Winston has all the attributes necessary to be a very successful quarterback in Tampa Bay, in the NFL and in Arians’ offense. The key for Arians and the voices in Winston’s ear – Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen – will be to get Winston to put it all together and play up to his potential.
If the “Quarterback Whisperer” can’t do it, I don’t know who can.