Winston is the Bucs’ leader in more than voice

by Gary Shelton on July 29, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston possesses the intangibles that make leaders.

Winston possesses the intangibles that make leaders.

Friday, 5:30 a.m.

A guy yells in the locker room. He charges through the door and out of the tunnel. He breaks through the banner and leads his team onto field.

Rah, rah. And furthermore rah.

Is this leadership? Not really. The players who are following him onto the field were headed there anyway.

A player suggests that his team will get better real soon despite the final score. He says the right things. He acts the right way.

Is this leadership? No, not by itself. Most players are coached to say the right things. Josh Freeman said the right things. Ryan Leaf. Jamarcus Russell.

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But standing on the field, trailing by six with three minutes to play, and having every eye in the huddle looking at you. That's leadership. Having

Gerald McCoy has given way to Winston as a leader of the Bucs.

Gerald McCoy has given way to Winston as a leader of the Bucs.

those players know you're going to lead them, and then leading them downfield. That's leadership. Being the most important player on the field, week after week, and having every voice fall silent when you speak? That's leadership. Doing it, not talking about it, is leadership.

That's where Jameis Winston comes in. And Gerald McCoy. That's where the Bucs fall in line. Oh, there are other talented players who will be counted on to make big plays. But when it comes to the guy in the driver's seat for the offense, and for the defense, the driver's seat is reserved for one guy.

And here we go again. These Bucs will go as far as Winston, and to a lesser degree McCoy, will take them.

“Jameis is now not a rookie,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “Jameis is the leader of our football team. That’s who he is. Yeah, it impressed me, but I’m sure you folks noticed it as well. It jumps out at you.

“Jameis is a special guy. I might have been one of the last people on board, but I’m fully on board now and it’s nice, it’s a great thing to have. He sets the tone for our team. We have a lot of good football players on our team, but from a leadership standpoint Jameis sets the tone.”

Yes, Winston is the voice you hear most on this team. He praises his coaches. He praises his teammates. And that helps a bit. But it isn't true leadership. Winston is the leader because he's the guy driving the bus, and everyone knows it. Last year, half of the Bucs wins were because Winston took them downfield to win.
He played well in the team's other three games.

Want to know how much of a leader Winston is? He even talked to McCoy about being a leader.

“I just talked to him after the season, just to get his insight on how I was as a leader,” Winston said. “I believe Gerald is a great leader to this team, and he’s not the only leader that we’ve got. I just know that he has a little bit more in him. You should’ve seen him out here working with (defensive ends) Noah Spence and Kourtnei Brown, the things that he put into these players. Even me, when I first got here he put so much into me. I just asked him, ‘Keep doing it, bring it up a notch, step it up,' just like I have to do, just like we all have to do.”

The thing about leadership is that it has to come naturally. It did when the leader was Lee Roy Selmon, and when it was Hardy Nickerson, and when it was Derrick Brooks, and when it was Ronde Barber. Now, Winston has to lead from his position, and from his personality.

“I’m coming with the same mentality [with] leadership because you can’t force leadership, that’s just who I am,” Winston said. “You guys know that, so it’s not different at all from me being around the guys. The different thing is, basically, the offense. Being more comfortable with everything. Being more comfortable to step up out there and speak up.”

In sports, of course, the best leaders worry first about themselves. Winston is still a second-year quarterback trying to master the game.

“I don’t believe that right now is the time for me to just focus on one thing. We have a long time until the season. I have to get better at everything from footwork to keep maintaining my body, staying in shape, pocket presence, there’s a lot of things that I have to do to get better. And I’m going to keep getting better my whole career — it’s not just from year one to year two, it’s a whole-life thing.”

“I feel like I made a lot of strides in everything that I did. That was the purpose for me in my offseason, was to get better in every way that I can. I feel like I did, but it’s never too bad to keep getting better, so I’ve got to continue to get better. I’m nowhere near where I need to be and I’m never going to be where I need to be.”

His weight is down to 231. You can see the difference in Winston after the off-season. His teammates can, too.

“To me he’s been a great player since college, and then he came in and he showed why he was the number one pick,” said receiver Mike Evans. “He keeps improving, like you say, his deep ball is getting better. He’s in better shape. I’m excited to see what we can do together.”

Said running back Doug Martin: "You know, since he’s been here — when he first got here, he was a little quiet just being the rookie and just listening and learning. Over time he became that vocal Jameis that’d be seen on TV. He’s always inspiring and he’s shouting out motivational quotes, so he’s definitely growing as a leader and I believe this year he’s going to take those reigns to another level as being a leader.”

But if there is another voice to consider on this team, it's McCoy. Last season, there were rumblings that Winston's eagerness to take over this team ruffled some of McCoy's feathers. After all, he's the four-time Pro Bowler.

Not so, McCoy said.

“People ask, ‘Gerald, what type of leader are you?’ Whatever type my team needs me to be. Jameis and I had a private conversation about what he feels like this team needs me to be as a leader. I’m not going to say, but I think it’ll be obvious when it happens. Because you guys are used to seeing me do things a certain way, that’s going to change because the face of the franchise came to me and said, ‘Hey listen, if we’re going to win we need you to do this’. Our quarterback said this is what he needs, this is what I’m going to do. Because if he feels like that’s what our team needs in order for us to win, who am I to tell him, ‘No, I’m not going to do that?’ Because I want to win too, so, he’s an intelligent guy, young or not. Very mature, very intelligent, and he sits back and he watches and analyzes and he’s seeing something that he feels like I can do to help this team be better. It’s not hard to do, it’s just a matter of me just doing it.

“I love Jameis, man. The day after he got drafted I went to both of his parents and told them, ‘I’ll take care of him. Don’t worry about him. When you go home, go on the plane and go home, I got him.’ I love him, man, he’s like my brother. Like I said, I just referred to him as the face of the franchise because he is. He is. When they show commercials of the Bucs they’re not showing Gerald, they’re showing Jameis. And that’s for a reason, and I’m happy about that. Because if your quarterback is the face of your franchise, usually that tags to winning or going in a positive direction. So, I’m excited about it, man. And passing the torch, Ronde gave me the torch. I didn’t ask for it, he passed it to me. So, here you go Jameis. Take us to a Super Bowl, man.”

Look, a team doesn't have singular leaders. That's not how it works. At the height of Brooks' days, for instance, the Bucs had John Lynch and Barber and Shelton Quarles and Simeon Rice. Yes, even Warren Sapp to a degree. Great teams follow more than one guide.

This year? You'd like to see Lavonte David do some leading. And Brent Grimes and Vincent Jackson and Martin. The Patriots had Tom Brady last year, but they didn't just have Brady. The Broncos had Peyton Manning, but not only Manning.

But when it gets down to the reason this will be a better team or that it will not, there is only one choice. It's Winston's team. Period. After that, there are bits of leadership.

After all, the more leaders a team has, the more it's likely to be going someplace.

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