NFL Wire News

Winston improved as Bucs went to up-tempo offense


The Sports Xchange

TAMPA — Jameis Winston had a slow start in his NFL debut against the Vikings Saturday. But once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to the hurry-up, their rookie quarterback made things happen fast.

Winston bounced back to complete five passes and lead the Bucs on a 76-yard drive in nine plays in the second quarter, capped by his 8-yard touchdown run. Winston said the no-huddle approach in the two-minute offense got him and the team into a rhythm.

“I think we’re good at playing fast,” Winston said. “When we picked up the tempo and everything started rolling, everything just started going downhill. The offensive line did great. Everyone around me did great. When we picked up the intensity, we saw what we’re capable of.

“It just picks up the tempo. When you’re going slow, it just picks up the tempo. It gives you an energy burst and you start playing better.”

Winston said there wasn’t much to his decision to scramble for his touchdown.

“They were playing kind of like a cover-four post where the safety was looking at No. 3 and I was basically by myself,” Winston said. “Bobby Rainey made a great block and sprung me into the end zone.”

Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said Winston settled down after the slow start, but it never seemed as if the game was too big for him.

“No. Not nervous,” Winston said. “Very anxious. Of course I had butterflies but I wanted to do the right thing.”

Winston did plenty of wrong things in the 26-16 loss. He went 9-of-19 passing (including a fail Mary) for 131 yards with an interception and no touchdowns for a rating of 48.3. Not all of it was his fault. The Bucs had trouble with backup center Garrett Gilkey getting snaps to him.

“Offensively, just talking about, first, Jameis Winston and how he did, I like the way he finished,” Smith said. “I like it more watching the last two drives that he had all the way up until our offense getting in position for one last heave to the end zone. He gave us a chance even to get that, to get a touchdown off of that. We haven’t worked a lot on him sliding, but we will. (He) threw some good balls, even some of the passes early on. It goes against the quarterback, but we could run a couple routes a little bit better.”

Winston said he will be critical of his play when he watches the game on video.

“I’ve got to look at the tape,” he said. “I want to judge myself first. I want to check out my footwork. Everything that comes with it. Nothing specific I’ll be looking at. This is my first NFL preseason game. So obviously, I’m going to grade myself pretty hard.

“It’s just one half. It’s my first half. My first game. Our first game. It’s Minnesota’s second game, so you’ve got to commend them. Our first game against a real opponent. You’ve got to love the fact that we’re out there playing football, the fact we fought hard and we get to play another day. We have Cincinnati at home on Monday. We’re looking forward to that game.”

On another issue, Winston says he did a good job sliding when he played baseball at Florida State. But he struggled trying to get down in Saturday’s game, taking a late hit to the head that did not draw a penalty.

–The news for the Bucs on starting right tackle Demar Dotson is not good. He has been diagnosed with a sprained left MCL and could miss as much as eight weeks. But head coach Lovie Smith says Dotson will have a chance to play this season.

“He will be out for a period of time. We’re in the evaluation process still with him,” said Smith, making it clear “he won’t play this week,” but reiterating the injury is believed to be a sprain and not any kind of tear.

Dotson had to be helped off the field after he planted his left leg awkwardly while blocking late in the second quarter of Saturday’s preseason opener. Smith declined to give specifics of an MRI exam that was scheduled for Sunday, but Dotson would initially have a timetable of eight weeks to make a healthy return, which would sideline him for about the first five games of the season.

The Bucs don’t have many good in-house options to replace Dotson. The first name Smith mentioned was Kevin Pamphile, who started at left tackle Sunday and is competing with rookie Donovan Smith at that spot. Another possibility is Patrick Omameh, who started all 16 games at right guard last season but was moved to right tackle.

“We’ll look at all the tackles on our roster,” Smith said. “When we have an injury, it’s time for other guys to step up. That’s what we’ll do and see what the best combination will be right away.”

One name to watch is former Lions and Colts right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who could visit the team this week.

The Bucs have other issues to clean up on the line. Tampa Bay still is searching for a center to back up starter Evan Smith. When Smith missed a game last season to illness, the Bucs turned to guard Garrett Gilkey, who had never played the position in a game. The Bucs had trouble with the center/quarterback exchange and it hurt them on a third-and-goal play that cost them a chance at a touchdown in a one-point loss to the Bengals.

Gilkey played only nine snaps at center Saturday against the Vikings but had two snaps fumbled — one high over quarterback Jameis Winston’s head, another low — and contributed to a false-start penalty, with the Bucs failing to gain a first down in his three series at center.

“We have to protect the football a lot better than we did,” Lovie Smith said of the errant snaps. “High, low. We weren’t pleased with that at all. We need better play, and it starts with that center-quarterback exchange. That hasn’t been what we need it to be. I’ll even say at practice at times it hasn’t been that way. We know that’s been an issue and we’ll continue to work to get it better.”

–Smith raved about the play of rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Vikings.

“He was outstanding,” Smith said of Alexander, who had four tackles in 32 snaps, all during the second quarter. “Made a couple of rookie mistakes, but beyond that, a good start for him.”

The Bucs moved Alexander — the team’s fourth-round pick out of LSU, who just turned 21 — from strong-side linebacker to middle linebacker as training camp started. The Bucs signed free agent Bruce Carter this spring to take over in the middle, opting not to re-sign former starter Mason Foster, who’s now with the Bears. Asked if Alexander is pushing for a larger role already, Smith said he noticed him Saturday.

“We talk to all our guys. We want them to put us in position where we need to find ways to get players on the football field,” Smith said. “It’s hard not to take notice with some of the things he’s doing. I would definitely (say he’s making a case).”

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