Year two for the QB, sun up to sun down
Practice has ended, and Jameis Winston has his jersey and shoulder pads off when an old friend spots him: the grandmother of Bobby Hart, the right tackle who protected him in college. She wraps her arms around Winston and takes two pictures. "I've just been bragging about you," she says. "This weight! Oh, my God, he looks so good...."
Winston blushes. "You shouldn't have fed me all them crab legs at Florida State!"
It's true, Winston does look good, which bodes well for the Bucs. They can replace coach Lovie Smith with his offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter; they can lock up their 1,400-yard back, Doug Martin (five years, $35.8 million); they can tab Koetter's former Falcons boss, Mike Smith, to run the young, ascendant defense—and they still won't have their first winning season since 2010 unless their QB takes a huge step in his development.
As a rookie Winston threw for 4,042 yards and 22 TDs, but he won only six games. That he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate may have been the best thing to happen to him. There he noticed how toned and fit the other all-stars looked, and he felt embarrassed by his flab. Winston called his agent. "Man, I need to invest in my body," he said.
This off-season Winston exercised under trainer Tim Grover, who famously worked with Michael Jordan. Grover told him: Eat when the sun is up; don't eat when the sun is down. Winston downloaded a Food Network recipe app and started cooking with his girlfriend: broccolini, salads, lean fish.... "It's just a big vegetable," he says of spaghetti squash, one of his favorites. "We just warm it up and peel it out. I was like, This is so easy!"
The result: The 6'4" Winston shed about eight pounds, down to 231, and turned some of that fat into muscle. He arrived at camp looking stronger and feeling quicker, more balanced while setting his feet. Koetter also noticed he looked smoother when he scrambled or rolled out. "We're not saying he's Michael Vick," Koetter clarifies. "But his efficiency in movement is better."
Tampa kept Koetter and his O in place in part so Winston could benefit from continuity, and the QB's progress will be marked by his increased control of the attack. "I feel like I have more of the reins," Winston says. "[Coach is] taking his foot off the brakes."
That much was clear at one camp practice. As Winston came to the line, Smith had his D in a new alignment, one Winston hadn't seen before. The Bucs signed Brent Grimes (Dolphins) and drafted Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) to shore up the cornerback position, and they inked Robert Ayers (Giants) to rush the passer, so Smith could employ more creative looks like this.
Winston recognized the blitz and audibled. "He's almost thinking a step ahead of Dirk sometimes," says Vincent Jackson, who along with Mike Evans gives Winston two 6'5" receivers with big-play potential on the outside. This particular audible resulted in a substantial gain, punctuated by a Winston fist pump. But Koetter suggested Winston should have checked to another, safer play: "Jameis hit a home run, but I'll take 10 doubles over one home run and nine strikeouts. He made a couple of other checks where I said, 'What the heck was that?'"
The 22-year-old Winston is working to fix those, too—but now when he stays up late watching film, he's not snacking on ramen. He's fine with that, as long as while the sun's up he can have the seafood he loves so much.
As Bobby Hart's grandmother turns to leave, she offers to bring Winston some crab legs. "Whenever you want some," she says, "just let me know."
"Yes, ma'am," Winston replies, smiling, and you can tell what's on his mind.
TAKE THIS GUY AWAY AND THE OFFENSE CRUMBLES
In an era of wide-open passing, Doug Martin(left) is a throwback runner in a throwback offense. Martin is at his best rushing between the tackles; no one locates and slithers through small cracks as effectively as he does. While today's backs prefer to operate out of spread formations, which create more space in the box, Martin, who is shrewd at setting up blocks and reading angles, is better in heavier sets, with more bodies around him. The Bucs' system is conducive to this. Because Jameis Winston is a slower-twitch fastball thrower who needs time in the pocket, and because receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are big-bodied but also slower-twitch playmakers, Tampa's passing game features deep drop-backs and deep routes that use the heavier sets Martin prefers. It's an old-school system, one in which the back's style fits perfectly with that of the QB and receivers.
SI's 2016 Prediction: 6--10
2015 Record: 6--10
SEPT. 11 atATL
SEPT. 18 atARI
SEPT. 25 vs.LA [PREDICTED WINNER]
OCT. 2 vs.DEN
OCT. 10 atCAR
OCT. 23 atSF
OCT. 30 vs.OAK
NOV. 3 vs.ATL [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 13 vs.CHI [PREDICTED WINNER]
NOV. 20 atKC
NOV. 27 vs.SEA [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 4 atSD
DEC. 11 vs.NO [PREDICTED WINNER]
DEC. 18 atDAL
DEC. 24 atNO
JAN. 1 vs.CAR [PREDICTED WINNER]
= PREDICTED WINNER