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Minicamp analysis: Bucs improvement rests on Winston’s shoulders


The Sports Xchange

TAMPA — Much of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ success this season is riding on the development of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.

After a shaky start, the No. 1 overall pick looks as though he will be able to steer the team to calmer waters following last year’s 2-14 season.

Winston, 21, has immersed himself into coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense. Perhaps just as important, he’s toned down the volume while pumping up the confidence of veteran players who were anxious to see what they had in the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner.

“I’m impressed with the guy,” wide receiver Vincent Jackson said. “I didn’t know much about him until he got here. I knew he had physical skills. Obviously someone who has won a national championship, he can play some ball. But I didn’t know his aptitude and his ability to really pick up this game professionally and the speed of it, make reads and take control of the offense the way a quarterback has to at this level, and he’s done that.

“Is he still a young guy and a rookie? Yes, but every rookie is whether they’re a receiver or a lineman. You see the same mistakes. But the good thing about this guy is the fact that he’s not repeating the same mistakes. He’s making improvement every day. And when he does make a mistake, guess what he does? He gets right back in that huddle and says, ‘Let’s go.’ You’ll see him throw a pick and then he’ll come back and throw two touchdowns in a row. That’s impressive.”

With the limits on offseason workouts and minicamps, it’s increasingly more difficult to prepare a rookie quarterback to play in the NFL. Winston has split reps with third-year pro Mike Glennon, but head coach Lovie Smith believes he’s right on schedule.

“You would like a lot more (time), but that’s how it’s always been,” Smith said. “I know just talking about our rookie quarterback; he has come a long way in a short period of time. I’m very impressed with the amount of knowledge he has now about our offense. Some of us are leaving and will be leaving. Jameis (Winston) is one of the last guys each day. (Quarterbacks coach) Mike Bajakian has done an unbelievable job with him. Again, I’ll make the statement again: He’s right on track.”

The key for Winston’s success will be surrounding him with good players, starting on the offensive line. The Bucs believe they improved in the draft with tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet. But evaluating linemen in shorts is virtually impossible, and more won’t be known until the pads come on in August.

Complicating matters was the holdout during OTAs of right tackle Demar Dotson, who is negotiating a contract extension. Second-year pros Kadeem Edwards and tackle Kevin Pamphile have shown improvement, but still are not front-line players.

The Bucs are not very deep at the receiver position behind Jackson and Mike Evans. Rookie Kenny Bell will add a third player to that mix. Another big question is at running back. The Bucs didn’t pick up the fifth-year option on Doug Martin, who has missed 16 games in the past two seasons after rushing for 1,454 yards as a rookie. But Martin should be motivated in a free-agent year and still looms as the starter.

Defensively, the Bucs are better and more athletic. They still don’t have much help up front for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy but newcomers such as defensive end George Johnson and defensive tackle Henry Melton will help. The middle linebacker spot also is in flux. Free agent Bruce Carter, who played for the Cowboys last season, is holding down the starting spot, but rookie Kwon Alexander is coming fast.

The secondary got a boost from the acquisition of safety D.J. Swearinger from the Texas. They also used a waiver claim on former Patriots tight end Tim Wright. Having the top spot in the waiver order will be a huge boost for the Bucs until the third week of the regular season.

“Defensively, we’ve seen a lot of good things that we like right now,” Smith said. “It will be good competition in training camp. What you really can’t do, though, is get too high or too low when nobody is in pads. Again, we just want to get in position and we have some players getting in position for playing, you know for training camp.”

Smith is confident and says the Bucs are “going to be a good football team.”

“It’s always kind of good to get to the minicamp part, though,” Smith said. “Long offseason we’ve had. I know the guys are anxious and everybody has plans, but it’s about finishing the job. We got a lot of work done. We’ve seen marked improvement from so many of our players. We are right on track. I think every time I’ve talked to you, I’ve talked about that. I feel like that’s where we are at right now. We are going to be a good football team. I mean that’s our statement and before long, when we get back together, it will be for real. Then the depth chart counts. Where guys are getting reps counts.”

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