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Bucs’ Winston coming to grips with reality of rookie role

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The Sports Xchange

TAMPA — Jameis Winston has already experienced a topsey turvey rookie season. But the biggest lesson the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie quarterback has learned is that he can’t turn the football over and expect to win.

Winston is coming off his first turnover-free game as a pro in a 38-31 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5. A bye week has done a lot to refresh Winston and his supporting cast on both sides of the football.

The Bucs would like the offense to run through running back Doug Martin, who is ninth in the NFL in rushing with 405 yards, having played one less game than many of the players ranked above him.

So as the Bucs prepare to visit the Washington Redskins at FedExField at 1 p.m. ET Sunday, Winston seems to have come to terms with his restricted role.

“I’m really nobody in this league yet, so they don’t have to worry about me,” Winston said. “I have great teammates that do a great job and we have a great team. That’s what I think the biggest thing about this league is: you have complete team wins.

“You can’t have a game where your offense plays really good and your defense and special teams don’t do well and win the game. You can’t have a game where your defense plays outstanding and your offense and special teams don’t do well. You’re setting yourself up for failure. So I think this game is just a complete team game, whereas college, one person, basically, can take over the game. I think that’s like every level, other than basketball. In basketball, one person can probably take over a game at the end of it, though.”

The Bucs have a chance to get to 3-3 while the Redskins desperately need a win after a 2-4 start and humbling loss to the New York Jets last Sunday. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has defended his choice of Kirk Cousins at quarterback and called the game against the Bucs “critical,” and a “code red.”

“After you have a tough loss like we had against the Jets, and obviously we’ve lost two in a row, falling to 2-4, you have a game at home and you have to have a sense of urgency,” Gruden said. “You can’t get knocked too far back in this division, or anywhere.

“To get 2-5 on the bye week, I think it’s important for us to try to get in the bye week with some positive thoughts. It’s an important game – as they all are, like I said – but playing in our home stadium, we have to take advantage of our home games and it’s a very important one for us.”

Cousins has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions – more than Winston – and has already thrown more picks in his career than Robert Griffin or Colt McCoy. But Gruden is standing by his beleaguered passer.

“I think just the total work,” Gruden said. “You see a couple bad throws here and there and everybody questions the decision, as obviously they should. We have three quarterbacks who have played in the NFL and had some success, so if you’re the guy playing and you don’t have success, then obviously people will want the other ones in there. But I just think the total package of what he’s done since OTAs, training camp, and obviously this year.

“He’s had some rough times as we knew could happen, but he’s also done some good things and we’re going to try to build off the positive and see if he can play himself out of this rut that he’s in right now and see what happens. But we have high hopes for him still, and this offense.”

The Bucs expect the Redskins to sell out against the run, not unlike the game plan the Houston Texans deployed. The question is whether Winston will be prepared to make them pay when they do.

“The closest we’ve seen to that so far is the Houston game,” Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “Houston sold out to stop the run. We threw it more on first and second down. I think one of those games on run downs we ran it 18 out of 21 times. We were a lot more balanced in that Houston game. That day is definitely coming and Jameis has to be ready. I don’t have an opinion on it. We have no choice. He has to be ready.”

PRACTICE NOTES: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday and may miss Sunday’s game against the Redskins. … G Logan Mankins (groin), who missed the Bucs’ win over Jacksonville two weeks ago, did not practice Wednesday. Kevin Pamphile took reps at left guard Wednesday. .. LB Bruce Carter did not practice Wednesday due to an undisclosed injury. … DT Akeem Spence (back), who had been on the physically unable to perform list, was in full pads and practiced Wednesday. The Bucs have two weeks to activate him.

SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. The Bucs leads the series 10-9, with Tampa Bay winning the most recent meeting 27-7 last year in Washington. The Bucs are 4-4 all-time at Washington. The Bucs rallied for a 14-13 win over the Redskins in the 1999 NFC Divisional playoff game in Tampa.

GAME PLAN: The Redskins need to find a way to take the pressure off quarterback Kirk Cousins. The fourth-year pro has six touchdown passes and eight interceptions in his first NFL season as the full-time starter. The best way to do that is to run the football with Alfred Morris and Matt Jones, if the rookie is healthy enough to play.

Gruden says using Jones to spell Morris is what makes the Redskins go.

“We saw that he was a big, tough, physical runner in college,” Gruden said of the former Florida star. “He’s a Tampa guy, I know that very well. We’re excited about him. He’s put a couple balls on the ground, but he runs hard and he’s a physical runner and he’s a great complement to Alfred.

“When we’re at our best, those two guys are getting their touches, and when we’re not, those guys aren’t getting enough touches. That’s important for us to establish a run game. Alfred is still the lead dog, but bringing in a fresh Matt Jones, as big as he is, as physical as he is, to run with power and speed on the outside – he’s a great weapon for us and hopefully he’ll be healthy come Sunday.”

It’s no secret the Bucs have established their identity as a run-first team. In their last game, a 38-31 win over the Jaguars, they lined up with three tight ends in a jumbo package and pounded the ball against eight- and nine-man fronts.

Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston had his first turnover-free game in his last time out. But if the Redskins load up against the run, the Bucs are good enough with outside receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans to make the Redskins depleted secondary pay.

Gruden said his team can’t be as aggressive in coverage as it would like, so the Redskins will have to pick their spots.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

–Redskins DT Terrance Knighton vs. Bucs G Ali Marpet. Knighton is a 6-foot-3, 364-pound plugger in the middle of the Redskins’ 3-4 defense. He will be tough to move in the running game for Marpet, the outstanding rookie from Division III Hobart College.

–Redskins RB Alfred Morris vs. Bucs LB Lavonte David. Morris still is the Redskins’ bell cow back and with Matt Jones nicked up, he will have to carry even more of the load. He’s off to a modest start, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. David leads the Bucs with 44 tackles and has an explosive rookie next to him in LB Kwan Alexander.


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