Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rookie Trio Ready to Grow Together

After taking Jameis Winston with the first pick of the draft, the Bucs grabbed two players they think will be a huge help to their new QB for years to come…On Friday, those three took the field together.

Check out photos from Day 1 of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rookie Camp on May 8, 2015.

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On Friday, Turner Peterson became the answer to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers trivia question. Who was the first person to catch a football thrown by Jameis Winston on the Buccaneers' practice field?

Peterson is a rookie running back from Rice participating in Tampa Bay's rookie mini-camp on a tryout contract. Like the other 26 young players trying out over the weekend, he does have a few extra hurdles to clear before he's playing on Sundays, but this is a real shot for him to earn a spot on the team's training camp roster. Winston, of course, is virtually assured of having an enormous impact on the Buccaneers' future.

Winston first took the field at One Buccaneer Place at 1:09 p.m. ET on Friday. His first handful of warmup tosses were to Peterson, who was already outside. His first snap came from center Ben Gottschalk, a first-year player signed to the Bucs' roster earlier this year.

Those notes are indeed trivialities. In a far more meaningful sense, Friday was a new beginning for the Buccaneers' offense. The team selected Winston with the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft last weekend, and while that was a pivotal moment in franchise history in and of itself, it was also part of a larger plan. The Bucs went into the draft assured of getting Winston and armed with a three-pronged plan for the first two days. After getting their franchise quarterback, they wanted to pair him up with his blindside protector and then give him another new blocker up the middle.

Thus, the 34th overall pick was used on Penn State tackle Donovan Smith and the 61st pick (after a small trade upward) was used on Hobart guard Ali Marpet. The team clearly expects all three to be starters, and hopefully from Day One of the 2015 season. Getting them together on the field for the first time was an important moment for the Buccaneers."

We have a first-class quarterback," said Donovan Smith. "We have great linemen to complement him alongside the linemen that were in the locker room already. The coaches and stuff, that's what they get paid for – plug guys in the right position and make sure we all succeed as a team. It's actually a great situation for myself and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."

On one hand, a starting O-Line that is 40% comprised of rookies could be reason for a little trepidation. There could be some growing pains. On the other hand, Smith and Marpet believe they can help each other make the transition to the NFL game less painful.

"I think it's pretty big," said Marpet, who will get an opportunity to win the right guard spot after playing tackle at Hobart. "We're roommates right now so we'll be studying the playbook together. But yeah, going through it with someone else is usually pretty helpful. I know both our heads are spinning right now but I think we'll be able to get it down by the time the season starts."

Smith said that he and Marpet started to become close at the Senior Bowl, which was where the latter lineman first started to open some eyes. He's pleased to have ended up in the same NFL starting spot as his new friend, and even more pleased that they both get to grow together with the franchise quarterback.

"Jameis makes light of every situation and makes you comfortable and everything," said Smith. "As a quarterback that is his job and he is doing a hell of a job already. To be able to build on that from right now on to however many years, it's a blessing. It's going to play in our favor in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization, definitely."

Marpet got the same first impression from Winston but also liked what he saw when the offense finally huddled together on the practice field.

"He's a team player, he's a sociable guy, he's a likeable guy, he's a good teammate," said Marpet. "He's awesome. I think he did an excellent job. There were a couple errors with the protections, but very minor errors. So far I'm pretty impressed at how much he's gotten in such a short time."

Actually, Winston, fellow quarterback Seth Lobato and the collection of young receivers on hand had a bit of a shaky start to Friday's practice. Some throws were off-target, others were dropped. The passing attack improved as the two-hour field session progressed, but there were ups and downs throughout. That was to be expected, given the long layoff between real football activity for these players and the steep learning curve many of them faced. As for Winston, the Buccaneers' coaching staff is also working on smoothing out some of his mechanics, which would obviously affect his performance from throw to throw.

"I thought he had a typical first day," said Lovie Smith of his rookie passer. "You have to have a first day. There's some balls he would like to have back, but we saw a lot of good things that he did today. There's a lot for any rookie to learn coming in – I'm talking about the playbook, there's a lot.

"Again, it wasn't a perfect pass every time he threw it today, but just getting used to throwing the ball to our receivers. Your first practice on this field, there's a lot that goes into that – the lead-up. We didn't have any injuries today. We were able to get through the script and we'll be able to learn quite a bit from today's practice."

Winston obviously enjoyed the return to the football field, and he was his usual charismatic self with his teammates. That apparently started early in the morning, as the players were shuttling over from the hotel where they are housed for the weekend.

"It was an exciting time," he said. "I was excited and I wanted to get everyone else involved and excited. It got a couple smiles coming off the bus. That's all it takes, just to show those guys that I'm here, I'm ready, and just make sure that they're ready also. And they were. So I think, as a whole, we had a good day."

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