Jameis Winston was named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback on Friday, and barring an unforeseen turn of events, he'll become the fifth straight passer taken first overall in the draft to start his rookie season opener. The other four all entered the league since 2009 and have experienced varying levels of success, overall tilting toward the positive: Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
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In terms of those quarterbacks' first seasons at the helm, the results from a win-loss standpoint have been all over the board, ranging from Luck's 11-5 season with Indianapolis in 2012 to Stafford's 2-14 campaign in Detroit in '09 (injuries limited him to 10 games). Both Newton and Bradford helped their teams improve but finished a bit under .500.
Almost by definition, a quarterback taken first overall in the draft is going to be joining a team coming off an unsuccessful season. That's certainly the case for Winston, who is taking over for a club that finished 2-14 in 2014, albeit with a long run of close calls. On Saturday, Winston said he had achieved his childhood dream by becoming a professional quarterback; certainly, though, he also dreams of winning football games on the professional level, something he did at an incredible rate in college.
So are Winston's Bucs going to find themselves closer to the 2009 Lions or the 2012 Colts by the end of the year? For his part, Winston thinks he's been put in a position to succeed right away, even at the ripe old age of 21.
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"One thing I've learned: If you can play, it doesn't matter what age you are," he said. "I believe we have a great team in place for success, and I'm looking forward to this season. I can't wait."
One thing that should help Winston's transition to the professional ranks is the system being installed by new Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter. Not only has Koetter found plenty of NFL success in Jacksonville and Atlanta, but he's done it by adapting to the strengths of his roster and his individual players. He will surely do the same for Winston, but that may be easier than it sounds. Winston already recognizes a lot of what he sees in Koetter's playbook.
"I love Coach Koetter's offense," he said. "It's a great offense. The concepts are very similar to the ones we had at Florida State. I say all the time, I'm blessed to have played at Florida State, but Coach Koetter's offense is just amazing."
Winston also has a cerebral new quarterbacks coach in Mike Bajakian and a positional meeting room that's in harmony. Winston got the nod over third-year man Mike Glennon, who has started 19 games in his first two seasons and proved that he can play at the NFL level, but that apparently hasn't put any strain on their developing relationship.
"The whole quarterback room, we're a family because it starts with us," said Winston. "At the end of the day, our main goal in that quarterback room is for us to win football games. [There's] no discrimination, no hatred…we love each other. We have a great team. And it's not about us, it's about this whole team."
Glennon and the since-departed Josh McCown did not enjoy the advantage of a strong offensive line in 2014, but the Buccaneers hope they have adequately addressed that issue by spending high draft picks on Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. They also expect a higher level of play from returning starters Logan Mankins, Demar Dotson and Evan Smith and have been particularly pleased with the extra level of leadership Mankins has assumed in 2015.
Winston knows it will help his chances for success to form a strong relationship with his linemen, and in particular a leader like Mankins.
"That's what you have to do as a quarterback, because your job depends on it and they're job depends on protecting you," said the rookie passer. "I love those guys. Obviously, relationships are going to build. I've been here for four months, so those guys are feeling me out and I'm feeling them out. But at the end of the day, now, training camp, we get to be on the football field and that's how you bond faster, when we start fighting together, when we go to war together.
"Right now on this team I'm just accepting my role. We have a lot of veterans – Vincent [Jackson], Gerald [McCoy]. Those guys are our leaders. My job right now is just to play quarterback."
The Buccaneers moved practice to the University of South Florida for the first day of Training Camp.
Winston also discussed the Bucs' deep stable of tight ends on Saturday, and he'll have plenty of time during training camp to sing the praises of such available weapons as Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Charles Sims. Team management has made an effort to surround their rookie quarterback with dynamic weapons. In the end, however, Winston's success is going to depend mostly on his own talent, drive and leadership qualities. In that regard, he likely would have found himself in a position to succeed no matter what NFL city he ended up in.
"You've just got to be able to compete," said Winston. "You've got to have the will the win, and you've got to fight. You've got to have your teammates behind you. It's one thing getting players to play with you…it's getting players to play for you. So, I've just got to keep competing, keep getting better every single day. I'm not perfect, but I will compete my butt off.
"That's the thing about football, it's the competitive atmosphere. You've got to love it, you've got to love the fight."