Cardinals prepare for rising star in reshaped Jameis Winston

Sep 15, 2016, 12:30 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2016, 12:14 pm
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) signifies a Tampa Bay Buccaneers first down aga...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) signifies a Tampa Bay Buccaneers first down against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Jameis Winston was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after he threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a road win over the Atlanta Falcons.

It was his first game after a rookie season that saw him pass for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns, giving credence to the idea that the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft is developing into the kind of player one would expect to go first overall.

Now, it will be up to the Cardinals to slow the 22-year-old.

“Jameis does a great job of — he’s mobile, obviously, he can run around, move around in the pocket,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “He can make all the throws — he has a great arm. You let him just sit in the pocket all day, he’ll kill you. For him to go to Atlanta on the road, we know how hard it is to play in Atlanta. Four touchdowns? That’s great.”

At 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds, Winston is an imposing figure when standing in the pocket. He is not much of a scrambler, however, as last season he picked up just 213 yards on 54 attempts. He did score six rushing touchdowns, though, so when given the opportunity to make plays with his legs, he will do just that.

Granted it is still a bit early to call the former Florida State Seminole a star, but he certainly appears to be well on his way. Should he reach that status, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians would not be surprised.

“I’ve known him for a long time,” he said. “A hell of an athlete, turned into a great quarterback. A good leader, really, really bright guy, a 4.0 student, extremely accurate. He’s obviously making a really nice step. He made a great step as a rookie, but he’s really making a nice step this year, with the way he played this last week.”

When Arians says he has known Winston for a long time, he is not kidding. The coach met Winston when the player was a kid at one of his summer football camps in Alabama, and came away very impressed.

“Just a tremendous athlete,” he said. “A very bright guy, but had a cannon for an arm. He was probably throwing 90 mile an hour fastballs back then in the ninth, 10th grade.”

Since then, Arians has been following Winston’s career with a watchful eye.

“Oh gosh, yes. Jaboo’s been a legend since he was in the ninth grade,” he said. “My son was in Birmingham at the time. So I’ve been hearing about him, knowing about him for a long time.”

The admiration is a two-way street, as Winston said he absolutely remembers that camp and that Arians made an impression on him way back then.

“One thing I remember about Coach Arians is he’s one of the first people that gave me the dream of getting a Super Bowl,” he said. “At the camp he brought his Pittsburgh Steelers ring and showed all of us his ring, and that was one of the first times when I was just like, ‘Man, I want to get me one of those rings. I want to get me a Super Bowl ring.’”

Winston said he was 11 or 12 at the time, and though he admitted he did not remember anything specific Arians taught him, the coach is someone he has always looked up to.

And no, Winston said Arians’ classic colorful language did not make an appearance at the camp.

“There were a lot of kids there,” Winston said. “He held back.”

There will be no holding back for anyone Sunday.

Winston is coming in looking to lift the Bucs to a 2-0 record, whereas the Cardinals are hoping to avoid falling to 0-2 with a pair of home losses. Entering the season it was Arizona who was seen as a Super Bowl contender, but in a sport that is so dependent on the QB, if Winston has indeed taken his game to another level, then Tampa Bay may find itself in the conversation, too.

For Winston, it was a transformation that in part happened over the offseason. The catalyst for that change, he said, came from being in the Pro Bowl.

“Absolutely. That’s the main reason,” he said. “I saw Julio Jones walking around, Julius Peppers, all those guys like that, I was like, ‘Yep, it’s time for me to hit the weight room.’”

Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said it’s kind of a misnomer that Winston dropped a significant amount of weight, instead saying the QB reshaped his body.

“When Jameis puts his mind to something, then that’s what he does,” Koetter said. “He set out to change his body and that’s really what he did. He’s still a 230-pound quarterback. He just redistributed his body. He looks much leaner.

“I think the place where it shows up and where it’s helped him the most is just in his efficiency of movement, both in the pocket and on the move. You’ve got to remember that Jameis, in college, never really had a chance to lift weights because he was always playing baseball in the spring.”

Koetter said he began to see strides in Winston’s game last season after a Week 4 loss to Carolina, in which he threw for 287 yards and two scores but was intercepted four times in a game that featured some nasty weather.

“Jameis, in college, had consistently been able to overcome his turnovers,” he said. “He would sometimes put his team in bad situations but he was always able to bring them back and get the win. In the NFL, we kept telling him that it’s going to be a lot harder to do that because the teams are so close together talent-wise. After that Carolina game, Game Four, I think he really figured that out, that, ‘Hey, I am the number one guy that has to protect the football.’”

Winston was intercepted seven times in his first four games, but was picked off just eight times over the next 12.

All quarterbacks go through a learning process, with some being more steep than others. Winston is far from a finished product, of course, but the early returns are very, very promising.

It’s not just about what he does on the field, though, as Winston said where he is most different now compared to last year is in his relationships.

“I think it’s just being comfortable in the locker room and being comfortable around my teammates, having chemistry with my teammates, being able to feel guys out,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest part. People sometimes think it’s about the play, but it’s about how you really feel and how your teammates are toward you and how you are toward your teammates.”

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