Jameis Winston hasn't missed a start in his first two-and-a-half seasons in the NFL. That's about to change and, given his highly competitive nature, it probably won't be easy for him. However, accepting the decision to shut down his injured right shoulder for a couple weeks wasn't hard for Winston at all.
After Winston hurt his shoulder for the second time in four games on a hard hit in New Orleans last Sunday, the team chose to shut their third-year passer down for at least two weeks. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will start in his place, beginning this Sunday against Fitzgerald's former team, the New York Jets.
Prior to leaving Sunday's game, Winston surpassed the 10,000-passing-yards mark in his young career, becoming just the eight quarterback in league history to hit that milestone in 40 or fewer games. He started his career with a pair of 4,000-yard seasons and a total of 50 touchdown passes and was off to another promising start in 2017 before first sustaining a shoulder injury at Arizona in Week Six. His numbers – and those of the Bucs' offense – have dipped since, and so Winston clearly sees the value in taking some time off to get back to his pre-injury form.
"It's challenging, but at the same time, it gives me an opportunity to be there for my team in any way that I can – not just on the field," said Winston of his furlough. "Obviously, I want to be out there playing. I love this game. I'm very passionate about this game, but I look at it as a great opportunity to rest and become 100 percent. I've got a lot of trust in Ryan – very, very much so that it's a blessing in disguise that he gets a chance to face two opponents that he's been facing his whole career. I see it as a good thing. I see it as a way to just get back healthy [and] get 100 percent."
Through the first quarter of the 2017 season, Winston was averaging almost exactly 300 passing yards per game and had thrown eight touchdown passes and three interceptions. Beginning with the Arizona game, his next four outings included an average of 180.5 passing yards per game, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Obviously, he missed large chunks of two of those games, but only the second half in Buffalo in Week Seven looked like the Winston-led offense of the Bucs' first four outings.
Winston doesn't regret trying to play through his shoulder injury – he was actually improving markedly in the weeks since the Arizona game – but the additional hit in New Orleans changed the situation and made the current course of action the right one.
"I just want to compete," he said. "I'm out there to be there for my team any way that I can. I'm not going to take anything back that I've done in the previous week. This is where we're at now. I can't control what happened in the previous weeks. I just know where I am now and the steps that we are going to take for the future."
On Tuesday, Winston took a trip to Alabama to see renowned orthopedic doctor James Andrews, a visit that the quarterback described as standard protocol. Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted that the team had been consulting Andrews on Winston's shoulder since the initial injury.
"Dr. Andrews has been involved in this since the beginning, so he's been getting the updates every week," said Koetter. "He's been receiving the MRI reports every week. Yesterday was just the first time [Winston] went there in person, along with [Head Athletic Trainer] Bobby [Slater]. It's very common for many players in the NFL to get second opinions on injuries, especially quarterbacks in their throwing shoulder. But yeah, he's been part of the process along with our doctors the entire time."
Koetter also said that surgery on Winston's shoulder has not been suggested to him as an option, and that the current prognosis is still at least two weeks of rest.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday.
While Winston's status for the next couple weeks is certain, the Buccaneers have several other injury concerns – some new, some that have been developing for weeks – that will bear watching throughout the week.
Defensive end William Gholston will definitely not play against the Jets on Sunday, but that's not particularly terrible news given that Gholston was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital on Sunday after sustaining a neck injury. Gholston was well enough to fly back on the team plane Sunday night and he has continued to improve since.
"He's doing better," said Koetter. "Will is going to be out this week for sure. He was out at practice today. He is still wearing a neck brace. He's doing okay to move around, but not okay to play NFL football. Those are all medical decisions."
Both of the Buccaneers' starting offensive tackles were held out of practice on Wednesday. Left tackle Donovan Smith, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury, seems to be the larger concern, but right tackle Demar Dotson is dealing with a hamstring ailment. In addition, starting right guard J.R. Sweezy was limited on Wednesday due to a knee injury.
Starting left guard Kevin Pamphile moved out to left tackle after Smith's departure, with Evan Smith stepping in next to him. That would presumably be the plan again on Sunday if Donovan Smith is out.
"He did a decent job," said Koetter of Pamphile's emergency fill-in on the edge. "He had one play where he took a bad pass set, but he hadn't been practicing a lot of pass sets at left tackle. I think that's one of the things [for] any player, if he can play multiple positions, [it] adds value. Kevin's always gone above and beyond the call of duty to do whatever we need him to do."
There was also potential good news on the Bucs' first injury report of the week. Cornerback Brent Grimes sat out the last two games, and three total on the season, due to a shoulder injury, and he didn't practice in between the last two contests, either. He was back on the practice field on Wednesday, and though he was limited that provides hope that he is on track to get back into game action.