Most improved Bucs? It better be Winston

by Gary Shelton on May 17, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Of all the Bucs, Winston needs the most growth./JEFFREY S. KING

Of all the Bucs, Winston needs the most growth./JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

He will step into the huddle, and Jameis Winston will admire all that he sees.

He has never seen this kind of talent. Frankly, the Tampa Bay Bucs have never had this kind of talent. A franchise whose finer moments have been built around a defense dragging an offense toward the finish line, the Bucs are finally cooking with gas.

So imagine Winston as he gathers his troops. There are receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. If his team is in a two-tight end set, there are O.J. Howard and Cameron

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Brate. If the team is in a four wide set, those two would be replaced by Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin. There are Ali Marpet and the underrated Donovan Smith.

And nearby, in charge of the first downs and touchdowns, is coach Dirk Koetter.

Ask yourself, then: Who do you worry about most?

Oh, if you're like most Bucs' fans, the answer is easy. Doug Martin, you say. But there is this: Martin didn't break a sweat last season. Martin, who won't play in the season's first three games, has had an up and down career even when he's not suspended for drugs. Twice, he's had more than 1400 yards. Three times, he's had fewer than 500.

Maybe you would suggest J.R. Sweezy, who missed all of last year. Or Demar Dotson, who wasn't exactly great last year.

Or, here's an idea.
The Bucs' offensive player most worth worrying about? Well, it's Winston. Of course it is.

Yes, this is his team, and yes, he is its leader. But while Winston has grown into a very good quarterback for the Bucs, he is still short of great. There is much work for the kid to do.

Oh, most of you know that I'm a Winston guy. I like the way he competes. I like the way he leads. I like that he's good in the fourth quarter. I like that he helped the Bucs win four more games in 2015 than in 2014, and three more in 2016 than in 2015.

Still, there are moments you notice that Winston is still a work in progress. Last year, he has 18 interceptions and 10 fumbles, an unacceptable amount of turnovers. His rating was only 86.1. His completion percentage was only 60.8. He struggled with his deep passes, perhaps because most of his receivers lacked separation speed.

Winston needs a bit of work on all of it. He needs to be more precise, more accurate, more dangerous. He also needs to orchestrate an offense that is busting with potential.

So who does Winston throw to? Remember, starting quarterbacks have a finite number of completions in a season. As a rookie, he completed 312 balls. Last year, he increased that to 345.

How many does he get this year? With a better receiving corps, you'd guess he's going to get about 384, or 24 completions a game. That isn't much of a stretch; six quarterbacks in the NFL completed more passes.

But how are they dispersed? Last year, there were times it seemed as if Evans was his only dangerous receiver. He caught 96 for 1,321 yards. With Jackson and the Bucs' other new receivers, it's doubtful he'll get 173 targets again. Let's say he gets 85 for 1,200 yards. That'll still be plenty as long as Evans still scores his 12 touchdowns and his first downs (his 81 led the league).

Jackson, meanwhile, caught 56 for the Redskins and averaged 17.9 yards per catch. Jackson should be able to equal the catches if not the yardage.

Humphries played much of last season as the team's second receiver. He'll be third or fourth this year, which should get him better matchups. He caught 55 balls last year. He'll get about 50 this year.

Godwin, as a rookie, will make enough plays that many will say he deserves more time. Still, he'll get about 25.

Then there is Howard. Remember this: Winston has always felt security with his tight ends. Howard will have a chance to make an impact. Let's say he comes down with 38 catches.

I'd still bet that Brate leads the tight ends in receptions, though. He's a tough cookie, and while he'll give up a few catches to Howard, it won't be many. Let's say he gets 50 balls.

That leaves the running backs. Simms got 24 last year. He should get 30 this year. Martin and Rogers combined for 27; let's give them 25.

Scatter a few catches to the likes Peyton Barber and Freddie Martino and the assorted fourth and fifth receivers.

For Winston, however, the season will likely be measured in moments. Already, he has three fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives. For a guy with 15 career wins, that isn't a bad start.

He is the key, you know. If Winston improves from his first two seasons — and you would expect that for a guy who just turned 23 – then he'll prosper from his surroundings. Jackson in particular should help his deep ball. Spreading his targets around should help his accuracy. Having so many weapons should help his win total.

Improvement is imperative, however. This team can live with the results if Martin isn't any better than last year. Or if Dotson isn't any better. But Winston must be improved if the Bucs, at large, are to be improved. They cannot afford a backward step.

Fortunately for the Bucs, they don't anticipate any.

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