WIN­STON'S RISKY BUSI­NESS

Tam­ing the QB’s in­stincts could de­fine not only the Bucs’ sea­son but his ca­reer.

Tampa Bay Times - - Sports - RICK STROUD Bucs

TAMPA — “I’m a risk taker.” • That’s what Jameis Win­ston told Browns rookie quar­ter­back DeShone Kizer last month in a postgame con­ver­sa­tion. It was a can­did mo­ment that sums up the Bucs’ dilemma with their quar­ter­back. • Coach Dirk Koet­ter laughed when he saw the ex­change on HBO’s Hard

Knocks. • “Yeah, duh!” he said. • Win­ston has never met a play he didn’t like, never at­tempted a throw he thought he couldn’t make. Those at­tributes have served him well. • But for the Bucs, who open their sea­son to­day against the Bears, man­ag­ing the risk that comes with Win­ston likely will de­fine not only this sea­son but his ca­reer. • Koet­ter per­fectly de­scribes the emo­tional swings of coach­ing such a dy­namic and haz­ardous passer: • “The very first pass of his ca­reer, he’s a rookie. (Re­ceiver) Adam (Humphries) is a rookie. We’re backed up in our own end. Adam doesn’t run a great route. Jameis is try­ing to make a play, and now we’re down 6-0. • Some­times it’s okay to punt right there be­cause we do have a ter­rific punter and an ex­cel­lent punt cov­er­age team.

“Then you fast-for­ward to Chicago last year and he scram­bles 30 yards back in our own end zone, I’m hold­ing my breath the whole time. He throws a bomb to Mike Evans. Now on the next play, he hits Fred­die (Martino) for a touch­down. So, it’s riskre­ward.”

How do the Bucs man­age that? How much of Win­ston’s com­pet­i­tive fire can rage be­fore he burns down the house?

“I told him many, many times, in the NFL, the tal­ent is too close,” Koet­ter said. “You just can’t af­ford to get two touch­downs down and try to make great come­backs ev­ery week. Can you do it once in a while? Sure.”

The Win­ston ben­e­fit anal­y­sis goes like this: • He’s the only player in NFL his­tory to throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two sea­sons.

• He helped im­prove the Bucs from six wins in his 2015 rookie year to nine last sea­son.

For ev­ery in­ter­cep­tion re­turned for a touch­down or egre­gious fum­ble, he has four or five other plays that might win the game.

The cost:

• His 50 touch­down passes have come against 41 turnovers — 33 in­ter­cep­tions and eight lost fum­bles.

The player Win­ston most re­sem­bles, at least early in his ca­reer, is Pack­ers Hall of Fame quar­ter­back Brett Favre. Steve Mar­i­ucci would know. He coached Win­ston in the Un­der Ar­mour high school all-star game and was Favre’s quar­ter­backs coach in his early years with the Pack­ers.

He was watch­ing this pre­sea­son when Win­ston threw a ball up for grabs in the end zone as he was be­ing dragged to the turf at Jack­sonville.

“I watched him when his butt was 7 inches from the ground and threw that ball up, and it was deja vu all over again,” Mar­i­ucci said.

“Brett did that in Min­nesota. He was be­ing dragged down and shot­put one up there to God only knows who.

“I al­most sent Jameis a text say­ing, ‘We could do with­out that one.’ For ev­ery poor de­ci­sion that loses you a game, he will make four or five un­be­liev­able plays to win those games.”

The No. 1 over­all pick in 2015 out of Florida State is 32 games into his NFL ca­reer. Is this likely to change?

“No,” Mar­i­ucci said.

“He’ll learn when to go for it. But it’s not go­ing to change un­less you do an in­ter­ven­tion.

“When he’s 57, he’ll have the same com­pet­i­tive spirit.”

The team has taken steps to man­age the risk. They sur­rounded Win­ston with bet­ter weapons this year. By sign­ing re­ceiver DeSean Jack­son, the Bucs have a deep threat that will take some dou­ble teams off Evans. A year ago, Win­ston tar­geted Evans a league-high 173 times.

The Bucs also added tight end O.J. Howard and re­ceiver Chris God­win in the draft to go with Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries.

The de­fense also has im­proved un­der co­or­di­na­tor Mike Smith. To negate Win­ston’s 18 in­ter­cep­tions and six lost fum­bles last sea­son, the Bucs’ 29 take­aways ranked third in the NFL. That’s a plus-5 on the Win­ston giveaway-take­away ra­tio.

It should get bet­ter with the ad­di­tions of de­fen­sive tackle Chris Baker and safety T.J. Ward.

The Bucs also have a punter who can swap field po­si­tion in Bryan Anger. They were fifth in the league with a 44.1 yard net aver­age last year, and Anger put 37 punts in­side the op­po­nent’s 20-yard line. Re­mem­ber an­other big num­ber: 23.

That’s Win­ston’s age. He ac­cepts coach­ing, and that should over time help him make bet­ter de­ci­sions with the ball.

“The big­gest thing we’ve ham­mered with him is un­der­stand­ing field po­si­tion and hav­ing dow­nand-dis­tance aware­ness,” quar­ter­backs coach Mike Ba­jakian said. “I don’t know if you can pre­dict when he’s go­ing to im­pro­vise.”

Win­ston said he has learned to re­sist some of his trig­ger-happy urges.

“Change is good at times. And I’m work­ing on my patience,” he said. “But you are who you are.”

He might have found ab­so­lu­tion in a quote shared with him by of­fen­sive line­man Ali Mar­pet from a Dr. Seuss book ti­tled Happy Birthday to You!

“‘To­day you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You,’ ” Win­ston said, quot­ing the book.

“And that re­ally stuck with me be­cause we’re all our in­di­vid­ual selves. And no one can be us more than us. It’s so sim­ple.”

Photo il­lus­tra­tion by SEAN KRISTOFF-JONES | Times

LOREN EL­LIOTT | Times

Jameis Win­ston says he is work­ing on be­ing more pa­tient on plays but “you are who you are. … We’re all our in­di­vid­ual selves.”

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