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Buccaneers reset 2015: Winston era on the clock

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The Sports Xchange

The pick is in, the multi-million dollar contract is signed, so everybody might as well move on from that controversy over whether Florida State’s Jameis Winston should be quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After his No. 1 overall draft selection April 30, Winston signed his rookie, four-year contract the next day, worth $25.35 million, including a $16.7 million signing bonus.

That’s a lot of crab legs.

“I’m glad we got the contract stuff out of the way. I’m just looking forward to getting with the team. We’ve got some great teammates and I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff, just playing some football. This whole thing has been long for me. But football is what I’m here for and I can’t wait.”

Among those cheering the selection is the Bucs’ second year wide receiver Mike Evans, who always preferred Winston over Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Tennessee Titans. They each won a Heisman Trophy.

“Out of him and Mariota, I liked Winston more,” Evans said this week. “He doesn’t run as much. . . . I did my time with a quarterback and that was fun.”

Evans was referencing his experience with yet another Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M teammate Johnny Manziel, who is struggling in Cleveland after being selected in the first round last year.

During his two seasons as a starter for the Seminoles, Winston set national, conference and school records. In 2013, he posted a 184.84 pass efficiency rating, the fourth-best mark in NCAA history and an Atlantic Coast Conference and Florida State record.

Meanwhile, The Sports Xchange confirmed that Winston’s contract includes a clause that prohibits him from playing professional baseball.

A relief pitcher at Florida State, where he was 26-1 on the football field and bagged a national title and Heisman Trophy as a freshman, Winston played two seasons of baseball and was picked in the 15th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Texas Rangers, who also drafted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Winston had seven saves and 31 strikeouts as the backup closer for the Seminoles in 2014.

Winston is eligible again to be drafted in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft June 8-10.

Smith, GM Jason Licht and the Glazer family that owns the team did exhaustive research and spent hundreds of hours doing their due diligence on Winston. More than 75 people were interviewed about Winston, from his hometown, high school, college and law enforcement, including assistant state attorney Georgia Cappleman.

By the time he arrived at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, Smith used the word “exonerated” when discussing the 2012 allegation of sexual assault against Winston.

The other transgressions – stealing soda at Burger King, participating in a BB gun fight in which players shot out more than $4,000 worth of windows, shoplifting crab legs at Publix (saying he believed he had the hook-up) and getting suspended for a game after standing on a table at the student union and shouting a vulgar phrase – have been described as merely a lack of maturity.

“If he wasn’t a good guy, we wouldn’t have used the first pick on him,” Licht said. “Not only were we comfortable with him and his character, we are confident in his character and we think his character that he brings to the locker room and in the building is a strength.

“He won us over. He won a lot of people over in this building and around the league.”

Smith said he’s aware there are fans who won’t agree with the choice but pleaded for them not to pre-judge Winston.

“I would just ask our fans to give him a chance,” Smith said. “We did a lot of research. We want what’s best with our football team. There’s a certain type of guy we’re going to bring into our organization. I would just say to our fans, again, just give him a chance. Don’t have any pre-conceived opinions about him and let him show us who he is as man and as a football player.”

The Bucs are expected to start rookies at two of the most key positions in the NFL next season – quarterback with Winston and 6-6, 325 pound left tackle Donovan Smith from Penn State.

That can be a major challenge of inexperience.

“There’s a lot of rookie tackles that have played in the league and started their first year with rookie quarterbacks,” Licht said. “You can’t go off all the studies. Like I’ve said before, it takes great players to win and that was my study, so that’s what we’re going to stick to.”

After Winston, perhaps the most intriguing draft pick by the Bucs was 6-4, 310-pound guard Ali Marpet from Division III Hobart who demanded attention at the Indianapolis Combine. Although his big-fish-in-small-pond scenario made him hard to evaluate in college, his combine workout was the best among all offensive linemen.

The Bucs will bring their newly-acquired players together for a rookie minicamp this weekend (May 8-10). Here is a thorough look at the Bucs as they head into 2015:

2014 RECORD: 2-15, 4th in NFC South

COACH: Lovie Smith

2nd season with Buccaneers

2-14 overall

11th season as NFL head coach

86-80 overall; 3-3 postseason

2015 CAMP SCHEDULE

Rookie minicamp: May 8-10

OTA dates: May 26-28, June 2-4, June 8-11

Mandatory Minicamp: June 16-18

GRADING THE DRAFT — B plus

Per Rob Rang, NFLDraftScpout.com

Put simply, if Jameis Winston can keep himself out of trouble, he’s going to be an NFL star. His awareness, pocket mobility and accuracy to all levels of the field fit in beautifully with the massive pass-catchers Tampa already has on the roster and the Bucs added a couple of speedy deep threats to watch out for in Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay late in the draft. For Winston to have success, Tampa Bay must improve its play along the line of scrimmage and the Bucs nabbed two of my favorite blockers in the class with massive tackle Donovan Smith and featured Diamond in the Rough Ali Marpet, from Division III Hobart. Winston is a controversial pick but considering the focus on him, the talent at pass-catcher on the roster and the relative lack of defense played in the division, Winston is a very real Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate and makes Tampa Bay an immediate threat in a very winnable NFC South.

SCOUTING ALL DRAFT PICKS

–Round 1/1 – Jameis Winston, QB, 6-4, 231, Florida State

Bucs got their franchise quarterback who will be the starter the first day he puts on a helmet. His ability to the throw the deep ball will make weapons of WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Only question is whether he can be as good off the field as on.

–Round 2/34 – Donovan Smith, T, 6-6, 325, Penn State

You can’t draft Winston and invest $24 million in him without protecting that investment. Smith is a big, athletic blocker who should win the starting job at left tackle. Got a head start in pro-style offense playing two seasons for Bill O’Brien.

–Round 2/61- Ali Marpet, G, 6-4, 310, Hobart

Marpet is a rarity, a Division III player who proved he could hang with the big boys during a Senior Bowl invite. His 4.98 40-yard dash was the fastest among linemen at the scouting combine. Marpet could wind up starting at right guard.

–Round 4/124 – Kwon Alexander, LB, 6-2, 227, Louisiana State

Alexander will be 20 when training camp starts, so he’s a young football player with time to grow. Led the LSU defense in tackles and will make an immediate impact on special teams. Should back up both outside linebacker spots.

–Round 5/162 – Ken Bell, WR, 6-1, 197, Nebraska

Bell is the all-time career leading receiver in receptions (181) and yards (2,689) at Nebraska, where Bucs GM Jason Licht was a one-time walk-on. His father, Ken Bell, played for the Denver Broncos. Will make an immediate impact as a third or fourth receiver and should be excellent in kick coverage as a gunner.

–Round 6/184 — Kaelin Clay, 5-10, 193, WR, Utah

Coach Lovie Smith was spoiled in Chicago with Devin Hester returning kicks. The Bucs played musical chairs in the return game last season and weren’t very good. They addressed it with Clay, who had four returns for TDs last season to lead college football. Had a memorable turnover when he set the ball down at the 1-yard going into the end zone vs. Oregon and the fumble was returned for a touchdown by the Ducks.

–Round 7/231 – Joey Iosefa, 6-0, 247, FB, Hawaii

Iosefa is a fullback with good size and great strength. He’s built similarlt to former Bucs great Mike Alstott. Will be an asset as a blocker for the running game.

NOTABLE VETERANS ACQUIRED:

–LB Bruce Carter: UFA Cowboys; $17M/4 yrs, $4.2M guaranteed.

–S Chris Conte: UFA Bears; $1.5M/1 yr, $250,000 SB/$1.25M guaranteed.

–LB Larry Dean: UFA Bills; $745,000/1 yr.

–DE George Johnson (trade Lions).

–DT Henry Melton: UFA Cowboys; $3.75M/1 yr, $1M SB/$3.25M guaranteed.

–CB Sterling Moore: Not tendered as RFA by Cowboys; 1 yr, terms unknown.

NOTABLE PLAYERS LOST:

–DE Adrian Clayborn: UFA Falcons; $3M/1 yr, $750,000 SB.

–T Anthony Collins (released).

–LB Mason Foster: UFA Bears; $825,000/1 yr, $80,000 SB.

–S Dashon Goldson (traded Redskins).

–DE Michael Johnson (released).

–QB Josh McCown (released).

PRESEASON PEEK — Mark that calendar

All times Eastern

Aug. 15: at Minnesota (Sat.), 8:00

Aug. 24: CINCINNATI (Mon.), 8:00

Aug. 29: CLEVELAND (Sat.), 7:00

Sept. 3: at Miami (Thu.), 7:00


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