TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Bruce Arians is back on the sideline after a year of retirement, eager to help Jameis Winston realize his potential with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 66-year-old coach with a track record for helping quarterbacks flourish says the opportunity to work with the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 NFL draft is one of the reasons he accepted the challenge of trying to transform the Bucs into championship contenders.
Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and has finished last in the NFC South eight of the past 10 seasons, including three of four with Winston at quarterback.
Arians has mentored Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer during a long coaching career. He’s known Winston since the fifth-year pro was in high school and introduced himself to the coach at a football camp in Birmingham, Alabama
“It was a big part of it,” Arians said about the allure of tutoring a young passer with the potential of Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy at Florida State and has thrown for 14,628 yards but only won 21 of 56 career starts with the Bucs.
“To have all the pieces — ownership, general manager, quarterback, coaches,” said Arians, who coached the Arizona Cardinals for five seasons before retiring in 2017. “As that all fell into place, the excitement level got higher and higher.”
As excited as Arians is to have a chance to help Winston prove he’s Tampa Bay’s long-term solution at quarterback, the 25-year-old pupil is even happier to get a fresh start entering the final year of his rookie contract.
“I’m going to work regardless, but it’s always a plus when your head coach believes in you,” said Winston, who also welcomes the opportunity to learn from offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.
“Every coach brings something different. I’m just really excited to get to work with them,” Winston said. “Obviously, we’ll get to know each other more now that it’s training camp time. I think the one thing from Byron is just that he played this game, so I know he’s going to bring me a lot of great information. Coach Clyde’s (resume) speaks for itself, with the great quarterbacks that he had the opportunity to coach.”
Limited to nine starts a year ago, when he sat three games while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and was also benched briefly because of ineffective play, Winston is determined to cut down on costly mistakes that have contributed to Tampa Bay’s woes.
Tampa Bay led the league is passing offense a year ago, however the absence of a consistent running game and a leaky defense undermined the team’s chances of ending what’s now the second-longest playoff drought in the league.
Arians said Winston has the talent and work ethic to make the Bucs relevant again.
“That’s one thing you never have to question. Sometimes, you have to say: ‘Whoa, slow down, don’t overdo it’ because he is a workaholic and he wants to do everything possible to be successful. That’s all you can ask for,” the coach said.
In addition to learning a new offense, Winston devoted time this offseason to improving his footwork and developing a better rapport with some of the team’s young receivers. He also knows he has to do a better job of protecting the football.
While he’s thrown for a franchise-record 88 touchdowns in four seasons, he also has 58 interceptions in 56 career games.
“You don’t want him playing scared. You want him playing smart. Big difference,” Arians said. “I don’t want any player playing scared. Play smart and play fast.”
That’s what Winston, who feels he made strides the latter part of last season, intends to do.
“I’ve just got to do my job,” the quarterback said. “The better I do my job, the better chance we give this team a chance to win.”
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