Last year, Jameis Winston did more with his arm than any rookie quarterback in team history, throwing for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns. Now, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaches are hoping to get more out of his legs, and his keen football mind.
Among the game situations and strategies the Buccaneers are practicing during their offseason-capping mini-camp are scramble drills and no-huddle attacks. The former is designed primarily to keep Winston (and the other Buc quarterbacks) from piling up too many interceptions, and the latter will hopefully build on an area in which the young passer showed great promise in 2015.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' first mini-camp practice.
All of it is predicated on the fact that Winston has a greater grasp of Dirk Koetter's offense in his second season, and that he has the capacity to learn a lot more.
"Jameis can handle a lot and does handle a lot every day," said Koetter. "He can handle more than we're giving him. Compared to last year at this time, he knows way, way more than he did a year ago at this time. Also if you remember a year ago at this time, he was probably throwing three or four interceptions every single day and you saw even when things broke down today, Jameis pulled the ball down and ran. That's one thing we've been working hard on is our scramble drill. I think that's an area that we've improved."
Winston was actually quite effective on the run in his rookie campaign, picking up 213 yards and six touchdowns on 54 carries. Only 10 quarterbacks in the NFL rushed for more yards last year, and only MVP Cam Newton scored more touchdowns on the ground. Given that Winston wasn't known for his footspeed, the Bucs considered that output a bonus, and at times would have preferred that their prized passer kept himself out of danger. But they do want him to know when it's better to take off than to force a throw, and they're testing his decision-making skills by showing more diverse defensive looks than they did a year ago.
"One thing that quarterbacks always discuss after practice is, it's different," said Winston of the new defense being installed by Mike Smith. "We saw more standard looks last year, but now they are mixing everything up. It makes us better. It's good that we see all of these different looks and hopefully we'll see them confuse a lot of other quarterbacks this year."
Winston and the Buccaneers' offense did a good job running hurry-up two-minute drills last season. Tampa Bay tied Carolina for eighth in the NFL in points scored in the last two minutes of a half, with 70. The young passer obviously feels comfortable in the no-huddle and he thinks it helps some of the other young players on offense, too.
"I think me playing fast-paced, the more you can cut out thinking, the better you are," said Winston. "Especially for the young guys that we have, we just get up there, you call a play and you go with it. Any time you can create rhythm and repetition of the same stuff it's good and it works, so I like no-huddle. Everyone likes no huddle."
Koetter and his staff also like that the no-huddle puts stress on the defense, which is something they'll have to handle in the fall.
"We practice no-huddle every day," said the coach. "We have a certain no-huddle period where we go no-huddle the whole period and then we're mixing no-huddle in every other single period. It's great just for the communication part of it, even when we don't use it for the tempo part. It's making our defense play defense against no-huddle as well, which we'll see plenty of during the season, so I feel like our whole team is getting better in communicating in the no-huddle."
Koetter has discussed broadening Winston's options at the line of scrimmage in his second year, with more audibles and multiple play calls. At this time of the year, however, the offensive periods are scripted without regard to a game plan against a specific defense, so Winston's responsibilities haven't yet changed much from a year ago. Still, his continuing education in the offense should make those extra options a possibility in the long run. Winston thinks he and the Bucs' offense are on the right track to make that happen.
"I just feel like we're more comfortable in the offense because it is Year Two for us, and we're just excited," he said. "We're excited to see how we can improve on our numbers that we – hopefully we can match them or better them because we had a great offensive year last year."