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. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM WINSTON’S ROOKIE SEASON
Jameis Winston is a Buccaneer. For the fifth time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent a first-round pick drafting a quarterback. After nearly 40 years of searching for a fabled franchise quarterback, the Bucs are hoping that Winston can finally be the ever-elusive decade-long starter in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs were hopeful that Grambling’s Doug Williams would turn out to be that guy in 1978.
Miami’s Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde was the next try in 1987 with the No. 1 overall pick.
The Bucs felt like they couldn’t pass up on Frenso State’s Trent Dilfer in 1994.
Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik were sold on the physical tools of Kansas State’s Josh Freeman in 2009.
Fresh off a 26-1 record at Florida State with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy in 2013, it’s now Winston’s turn to be Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback.
Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
It always is with Bucs quarterbacks, as none of the four first-rounders previous to Winston truly performed well enough to earn a second contract in Tampa Bay. The fans believed Williams did after the 1982 season, but frugal owner Hugh Culverhouse balked, which forced him into the USFL for three seasons.
But as a rookie, Williams completed just 37.6 percent of his passes for 1,170 yards with seven touchdowns and eight picks while handing off to Ricky Bell a lot in 1977. He bounced back the next year, completing 41.8 percent of his throws while passing for 2,448 yards with 18 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.
Testaverde only saw action in four six starts with four games as a rookie, completing only 43 percent of his passes for 1,081 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. In his first season as a full-time starter in 1988, Testaverde completed 47.6 percent of his throws for 3,240 yards with 13 touchdowns and a league-high 35 interceptions.
In his first action with the Bucs in 1994, Dilfer completed 46.3 percent of his passes for 433 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions in five games with two starts. Starting a full 16 games in 1995, Dilfer completed 54 percent of his passes for 2,774 yards with four touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Freeman had the best debut season for a Tampa Bay quarterback, and is the only former first-round passer to complete more than half of his throws as a rookie. In 10 games with nine starts, Freeman completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 1,855 yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2009. The next year was actually outstanding, as Freeman became the only Bucs’ first-round QB to lead the franchise to a winning record in his second season while completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.
The on-field knock on Winston is that he threw too many interceptions last year at Florida State. In fact, his 18 picks were the second-highest in the nation after throwing just 10 his freshman season.
Winston is going to throw some picks this year – a lot – and Bucs fans need to know that’s coming. Winston is an ultra-confident gunslinger like Brett Favre was, so be prepared to cringe when he tosses 18-20 picks as a rookie. And he will.
New York’s Geno Smith left West Virginia with the lowest interception rate in NCAA history, but managed to throw 21 picks and just 12 touchdowns with the Jets as a rookie in 2013. The first quarterback selected last year, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, threw 17 picks and only 10 touchdowns while completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards as a rookie.
Outside of Johnny Manziel, who only started two games in Cleveland, the next two quarterbacks selected in 2014 fared better with interceptions. Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, who was the 32nd overall pick, completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Oakland’s Derek Carr, who was selected in the second round with the 36th overall pick, completed 58.1 percent of his throws for 3,270 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a rookie.
Yet none of last year’s rookie quarterbacks helped their teams to a winning record. Bridgewater’s Vikings finished 7-9, while Manziel did nothing to help the Browns win more than seven games in 2014. Bortles’ Jaguars and Carr’s Raiders each finished with a 3-13 record, and will pick third and fourth overall in this year’s draft, respectively.
Winston has been heralded as the best quarterback to come out in the draft over the past 10 years behind only Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, and the Bucs would be extremely fortunate to have him play like Luck did in 2012. As a rookie, Luck was able to lead the Colts to an 11-5 record while completing 54.1 percent of his passes for 4,374 yards with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Luck’s interception total dipped from 18 to just nine in his second season, while throwing another 23 touchdowns.
If there is a quarterback that can make a quick transition to the NFL it is Winston, evidenced by the fact he won his first 14 games as a redshirt freshman. In fact, Winston completed an astounding 92.6 percent of his passes (25-of-27) for 356 yards with four touchdowns against Aaron Donald and the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road in his first college game. Not 72.6 percent, and not 82.6 percent of his throws. We’re talking about 92.6 percent of his passes in his first game as a 19-year old Seminoles starter.
“I just work,” Winston said. “I have to work, and actions speak so much louder than words. … It’s just about working hard and serving my teammates.”
So don’t be surprised if Winston, who has a superior football I.Q., quickly absorbs Dirk Koetter’s playbook and has success right out of the gate. That wouldn’t happen with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who is viewed as a project at the next level and that’s why he wasn’t drafted by Tampa Bay. Yet Winston has had immediate success wherever he’s gone, whether it’s Hueytown High School, the Under Armour All-Star Game of which he was the MVP, or Florida State. That’s been his M.O.
But don’t be shocked if Winston follows the history of Bucs quarterbacks – and other NFL rookie signal callers in the past – and struggles with interceptions that lead to more losses than wins in 2015. Interceptions have been his M.O., too.
And with those interceptions will come some hissy fits and sideline confrontations with Koetter and/or quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian. That’s also part of the volatile Winston’s M.O., as he had a few dust-ups with Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher. Keep in mind that Winston just turned 21 and has some maturing to do.
So what can Bucs fans expect from Winston as a rookie? At worst, it’s typical rookie growing pains featuring quite a few interceptions and some tantrums that will make you shake your head.
At best, Winston quickly adapts to the NFL, keeps his interception total low enough for the Bucs to win enough games and get close to .500 this year. And there will be some amazing, jaw-dropping plays along the way.
Be excited about Winston’s arrival, but temper your enthusiasm somewhat. Have realistic expectations about what this rookie quarterback can do for Tampa Bay this season – no matter how special he is. Whatever happens, 2015 will be a better season with Winston at the helm and just know that the future looks awfully bright in 2016 with a full year’s worth of NFL seasoning and experience under his belt.
FAB 2. WINSTON WAS BUCS’ NO. 1 PICK SINCE JANUARY
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht revealed at the NFL Scouting Combine in February that there was a “leader in the clubhouse” for the team’s first-round pick and the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft. Smith and Licht didn’t reveal who that leader was in Indianapolis, but PewterReport.com did in January by making Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston the Bucs’ No. 1 pick in our first 2015 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft on January 12.
Based on what I knew at the time from my Bucs sources, I stated an incredibly strong case as to why Winston should be the Bucs’ pick in my SR’s Fab 5 on January 9 prior to our mock draft.
The reality is that Bucs sources told us at the time “it wasn’t even close” between Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. We couldn’t directly report that at the time, but we revealed that on Twitter on Friday morning.
I checked back with multiple sources throughout the whole process and that remained the case – Winston was clearly the pick. The team was only doing its due diligence on Mariota. There were some Mariota fans inside One Buccaneer Place, but those folks were not high enough up the chain of command to pull the trigger. And in the end they were eventually swayed towards Winston by Bucs director of player personnel Jon Robinson.
“As a football player, a long time ago,” Licht said when asked when the organization settled on Winston at No. 1. “You have to let the process play out with all players. You have to make sure that all players that you’re selecting … you check all the boxes with them. We checked a lot of boxes with Jameis. “It’s been quite some time, I don’t want to put a time and date on it, but it’s been quite some time. We wanted to make sure that everyone in the building was on board, including coaches and scouts who did a tremendous job. Jon Robinson led a charge that was one that I’ll remember forever. In terms of the background work we did, not just on Jameis but all the quarterbacks, we all came together on this as a consensus.”
Licht doesn’t want to put a time and date on it, but I will. When the Bucs tanked their season finale against the New Orleans Saints, 23-20, on December 28 it was pretty clear then that Winston was the object of the Bucs’ affections. Mariota was always viewed as a project quarterback by Tampa Bay and not someone that could step in as a rookie and help the team right away like Winston could.
In my SR’s Fab 5 column on January 16 I wrote: “Based on what I heard and conversations I had, Winston is regarded as the best NFL quarterback prospect and by a wide margin.”
Two weeks later in the January 30 SR’s Fab 5 I wrote: “Don’t be surprised to see more national media members start to peg Mariota to the Bucs to help Tampa Bay’s cause. We’re not buying it. Until PewterReport.com hears otherwise, Florida State’s Jameis Winston remains atop our mock draft for the Buccaneers.”
Licht admitted he nearly pulled a Dick Vermeil moment and cried after picking Winston, comparing that experience to the giddiness of his wedding day rather than a Christmas morning.
“I’m beyond excited, as well as the entire room up there,” Licht said. “He’s a champion, he’s a leader, he’s a winner, he’s got tremendous football character and tremendous in work ethic. His work ethic was one thing that really put him over the top for us, combined with his leadership and, I hate to say it, but for lack of a better word, ‘it’ factor, as well as his ability on the field, which caught our eyes early on in the process going back to his first year at Florida State.”
Perhaps no one was more hot for Winston that Licht was as he revealed that he had been scouting Winston since 2013 when he was with the Arizona Cardinals. As the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and Steve Keim’s right hand man, Licht began scouting Winston as a redshirt freshman, which is something most scouts and NFL honchos don’t do.
Scouting seniors is a given and a must. Scouting draft-eligible juniors sometimes happens during the season for some teams, while others don’t scout underclassemen until they declare for the draft. But Licht was so enamored with Winston’s ability in leading Florida State on a scoring rampage en route to a Heisman Trophy and a national championship that he couldn’t help scouting him during his first season.
It made sense. The Cardinals had not locked up aging veteran Carson Palmer to a long-term contract in 2013 and Licht and the personnel department were actively scouting possible heirs for Arizona, and that included Winston and Mariota. When he was hired by the Bucs in January of 2014, Licht had already seen Winston and Mariota in person, and then took more scouting trips last fall as the losses began to mount and it was becoming clear that Josh McCown was not the answer at quarterback for Tampa Bay.
Licht was on hand to see Winston throw three first half interceptions at Louisville on Thursday night and then rally the Seminoles in the second half to give a very good Cardinals defense an absolutely crushing defeat. Even though Florida State lost to Mariota’s Ducks team in the Rose Bowl, Licht watched Winston out-gun Mariota and look like a more NFL-ready quarterback in the playoff game.
In March and April, there were more and more people that came out linking Mariota to the Bucs, including ESPN’s Ron Jaworski. Former Bucs head coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden raved about Mariota and desperately wanted to see Tampa Bay take him over Winston. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock even moved Mariota ahead of Winston on his QB rankings a week before the draft. I warned of this back in February.
In the February 13 edition of SR’s Fab 5 I stated: “It’s time for me to address some rumors that have gotten out of control on the Internet regarding Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and the Bucs’ perceived interest in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. I’m not going to name any names, but I have read a few reports from what I call the “fringe media” – websites that either aren’t credentialed by the Buccaneers or are rarely present at One Buccaneer Place to cover the team – that are just plain wrong in their reporting.”
Smith confirmed that no matter what Dungy, Gruden, Jaworski, Mayock or any other NFL-related person said, the Bucs were going to make the decision based on the people “inside” One Buccaneer Place – not outside.
“On third-and-short I’m not calling for outside help,” Smith said. “We paid attention to what was being said and what we saw on the inside. We have a great scouting department that did a great job with a lot of research on all of our players. We trust what we saw on video and that’s what we went with.
“It’s exciting when everybody has an opinion and everybody’s an expert, but again, we went with what we thought on the inside of our building and we feel very good about it.”
I reported time and again that Winston’s cocky, type-A, alpha dog personality was a huge deciding factor between he and Mariota, and it was. After being around Tom Brady for several years in New England, Licht and Robinson had seen the prototype franchise quarterback first hand. In Winston, they saw some Brady characteristics and traits, especially when it came to their leadership styles. And both quarterbacks are absolute stone-cold killers in the clutch when the game is on the line.
That is just not true for Mariota. He doesn’t have that outward burning desire to be great that can visually stimulate and elevate the play of his teammates. His docile personality was a stark contrast to Winston’s boldness and confidence that inspired Florida State to a national championship and a 26-1 record.
In the end – as it was from the beginning of the Bucs’ pre-draft process – it was always Winston for the Buccaneers.
“We had interest up until the last few minutes,” Licht said about fielding calls from team’s wanting to trade up to No. 1. “We we’re never tempted; we wanted to take him the entire time. You can never not take a phone call; it’s just kind of interesting to hear what some of the offers were. But, like we’ve said before, we didn’t want to close the door on it, but we wanted to take him that was our plan. I don’t even want to put a price tag on it. He’s a franchise quarterback that we are thrilled to have.”
FAB 3. LEARNING TO READ WAS FULLBACK’S LANE OF HOPE
I had the good fortune to interview Bucs fullback Jorvorskie Lane two weeks ago. You read about what he thinks about new Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter last week and his role in the new Bucs’ offense in the previous edition of SR’s Fab 5. What I want to share with you this week is Lane’s road to the NFL.
Not much stood in the way of the big, 270-pound running back years ago in Pop Warner, high school or even at Texas A&M. The bruising runner used to run over or through the opposition. But there was one roadblock for Lane that he couldn’t trample.
Lane struggled with reading as a kid. So much so that it nearly cost him a chance to play college football for the Aggies and ultimately his NFL career.
“I can relate to kids because there were situations where I wanted to quit and give up,” Lane said. “Whether it was doing my studies or with football. You just have to go through certain stages of life. My main thing with kids is their goals and for them to chase their dreams. If you work at it, you won’t fail.”
Lane got the help he needed with the Read 180 program from Scholastic. Watch this video (2:51) about how Lane leaned on Scholastic’s reading program and how it changed his life. It’s an amazing look into the personal side of Lane and his struggles reading in school.
Now that he has overcome his deficiency in reading, Lane is spending his free time away from One Buccaneer Place working with at-risk kids and started the Lane of Hope Foundation to put the focus on youth education.
“Just me growing up and my background and getting to the NFL,” Lane said. “I wanted to let people know that you have to just work. There are going to be situations where it’s not given to you or you might not have the right people motivating you. But I want to let kids know how important education is. I came from a background where education really wasn’t important.”
Lane has recently been working with Tampa Bay-area foster kids about the importance of education and developing the social skills necessary to obtain a career.
“Learning basic writing skills and learning how to read,” Lane said. “It’s also about learning how to interact with people with manners. It’s ‘Yes, ma’am, and no, ma’am.’ It’s a firm handshake. It’s wearing a coat and tie. It’s how to be a woman and how to be a man and gaining people skills.”
Kudos to Lane for giving back to the community and championing the Scholastic Read 180 program. His is a tremendous story from a very grateful – and now well-educated – Buccaneer.
FAB 4. DRAFT DAY MEMORIES AT OLD ONE BUC PLACE
To celebrate my 20 years of covering the Buccaneers I’m going to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes encounters I’ve had over the last two decades. These stories will appear in the first 20 SR’s Fab 5 columns of 2015, which encompasses much of the offseason.
The media room at One Buccaneer Place is gorgeous. When the One Buccaneer Place opened several years ago, media members like myself were stunned at the opulence of our working area. It was a far cry from “the trailer” in which we worked during the 1990s and 2000s at the old One Buccaneer Place near International Mall and the Tampa Airport.
“The trailer” was actually a cramped mobile home of sorts that was in the Bucs players and staff parking lot outside of One Buc Place. When Tampa Bay held its draft, the working area was so small at the team headquarters that the media “work room” was actually the Bucs locker room back in the day. The public relations staff set up tables and chairs in the middle of the smelly locker room, which was not properly ventilated as it was built in the 1970s.
Tampa Bay’s locker room was half the size of the current space at the new building, and the old One Buc Place was so small that the main bathrooms where near the showers adjacent to the locker room. In the old days, it was commonplace to see head coach Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and other Bucs coaches stroll in and out of the locker room, giving media members like myself great access to get some quick quotes or scoop during the draft.
Jose Garciga, the Bucs’ official caterer for many years, and the owner of Sandra’s Taste of Tampa, had a tremendous spread of food for the media, complete with the best Cuban sandwiches in Tampa, homemade banana pudding and a bowl always stocked and re-stocked with M&Ms.
Back in those days the media had a much tighter relationship with the personnel department and assistant coaches because of the close quarters. Now the media is sequestered to our vast media work room, which is full of different amenities, but I still miss the old days.
I remember on Day 2 of the draft in 2004, Bucs special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia abruptly pulled me in to his office and gave me an enlightening 30-minute dissertation on what a special teams coach and how important it was. Perhaps Bisaccia was bored and feeling underappreciated by the organization at the time, but he went on a rant for a half hour that certainly made me appreciate him more.
“Outside of Coach Gruden, do you know who addresses more Bucs players? I do,” Bisaccia said. Bisaccia said that Kiffin and offensive coordinator Bill Muir don’t have to coach as many players as he does, which was a good point.
Bisaccia revealed how difficult a special teams coordinator’s job can be having to coach different phases of the game with field goal/PAT, field goal/PAT block, punt protection, punt block, punt coverage, punt return, kickoff coverage and kickoff return. Bisaccia said he had to be a defensive line coach to teach linemen how to block kicks, and teach linebackers, defensive backs, receivers and running backs how to block punts.
He had to be an offensive line coach to teach linemen, tight ends, defensive backs and linebackers how to block for field goals and punts. Bisaccia had to be a wide receivers coach to teach gunners how to get off the line and beat double teams while covering punts. He had to be a defensive backs coach to teach vice defenders how to effectively jam gunners at the line of scrimmage on punt return. Bisaccia had to be a linebackers coach and teach his entire kickoff coverage unit how to make an open-field tackle.
After that 30-minute lecture I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and appreciate for Bisaccia and the vast amount of responsibilities that special teams coaches have. That wouldn’t happen at the new One Buccaneer Place, but due to the confined space at the old team headquarters, chance encounters like that happened frequently, and they were incredibly cool.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• New Bucs defensive back Sterling Moore revealed this past week that he is being cross-trained as a cornerback and a nickel cornerback this offseason because he told the coaches that he wanted the chance to play both spots during his recruitment. While the Bucs are honoring his wishes, the team needs a lot more help at nickel cornerback where the position generated just one interception last year between Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey and that came in Week 17.
“I want to find out who’s going to be our nickel,” Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “I know Sterling Moore is a great player, but Leonard is a good competitor. Whoever wins that will be taking a big step up this year and making a lot of plays.”
• Don’t expect Tampa Bay to draft Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round, or possibly the third. The Bucs love his pass-rushing ability and athleticism, which is actually superior to that of Jadeveon Clowney, who went No. 1 overall last year to Houston. But Gregory has some issues dealing with the pressure and has resorted to marijuana too much for the team’s liking.
The Bucs have done plenty of research on the former Husker, who went to Jason Licht’s alma mater, and there are too many red flags. I don’t know if he’s off the Bucs’ draft boards or not, but with Tampa Bay’s locker room having great chemistry the organization doesn’t want to rock the boat.
• I know the Bucs pressured Jameis Winston to take down the picture of him eating crab legs in a Tampa Bay hat and jersey on his Instagram page shortly after being drafted by the organization, but that’s silly. Does it really show poor judgment by Winston to post a picture of him eating crab legs – even though he “shoplifted” some crab legs from Publix in Tallahassee?
It shouldn’t, but in this hyper-sensitive, overly politically correct society we live in I guess it does. I’m guessing crab legs are one of Winston’s favorite foods. Can he not take a picture of himself eating crab legs anymore? Is he forbidden from eating crab legs ever again?
Winston wasn’t saying, “Ha, ha! I got the hook-up from Publix and the Bucs still drafted me!” in that picture. He was simply enjoying some crab legs after being drafted by Tampa Bay – and he got them as a gift from Captain Keith Colburn of the hit TV show, “Deadliest Catch,” whom he met at Mike Alstott’s charity event two weeks ago.
It’s just stupid. Let the kid live his life and eat as many damn crab legs as he wants. For future reference to the Winston haters and those idiotic members of the media who look for a sensational story in everything – it’s not a crime, nor is it bad character, to eat crab legs – even if Jameis Winston does it.
• And finally, let me address some of the naysayers over the past few months, and yes, I’m talking about the anti-Jameis Winston, pro-Marcus Mariota folks that visit PewterReport.com and follow us on Twitter at @PewterReport. From January until yesterday, the PewterReport.com staff and myself have received criticism from some who claimed we had a bias towards Winston and against Mariota. There were some groans that we weren’t being fair or objective in our draft coverage and didn’t write enough pro-Mariota stories on PewterReport.com.
I’ve known for months that Winston was going to be the Bucs’ pick. In fact, PewterReport.com was out in front right of the Winston-to-Tampa story after the season concluded. I wrote numerous SR’s Fab 5 columns about it, and Winston was locked in at No. 1 on all six PewterReport.com mock drafts this offseason.
We knew that Winston was going to be the pick and based on our own evaluation through game film we agreed with that conclusion wholeheartedly. Knowing that, why should we have devoted time to covering a player we knew the Bucs were not particularly interested in?
In fact, had we gone back and forth between Winston and Mariota and made sure our coverage was 50-50 in analyzing both quarterbacks, PewterReport.com would have been doing die-hard Bucs fans like you a disservice. Our job is to write what we know based on facts and informed opinions – whether you like what we write or not.
Had the PewterReport.com staff preferred Mariota in our own independent research then our coverage might have been closer to 50-50 and you might have seen statements like, “although the Bucs prefer Winston, Mariota has zero off-field issues and could be the better QB prospect.” Alas, that was not the case.
It’s okay for you to believe that Mariota might be the better QB in the long run. Time will tell and you might get to say, “I told you so.” You might be right in the end. But as of right now, PewterReport.com has proven to be right about the Bucs drafting Winston – and has been right all along.
That’s not bias, Bucs fans. That’s reporting. All along I was just doing my job, and I hope that you weren’t expecting anything different.
There’s a reason why you come to PewterReport.com. It’s for us nailing Bucs’ Best Bet draft picks like Winston, and for us accurately forecasting a far less flashy free agency period than some had thought despite names like Mike Iupati and Orlando Franklin being on the market.
We’re not always right, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years – thanks to you visiting our site – and have made sure that PewterReport.com is pretty well connected for your benefit.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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