Will Bucs’ Winston continue his improvement?

by Gary Shelton on December 19, 2019

in general

What is the ceiling for Jameis Winston?/CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

He leads the league in passing yardage. He's second in touchdown passes. He's first in interceptions, as you might have heard.

But, yes, Jameis Winston can be better.

Just ask offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

“I still think (there is) room for improvement from the turnovers standpoint," Leftwich said. "Me personally, I’ve watched this kid get better every week. It (doesn’t) showcase itself in stats or results. The numbers are there, but nobody is (going to) pay attention to the numbers with this kid, no matter what he does.

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"All he can do is just keep playing, keep playing good football – continuously play good football – that’s all we want Jameis to do and that’s all Jameis is worried about. I understand how good of a football player he is and what he brings to our football team – he’s just got to play. Playing quarterback in this league is difficult. It’s extremely difficult to play quarterback in this league. When you have a guy that’s seeing it the way he’s seeing it and playing the way he’s playing … I’ve watched him get better week-in and week-out to be honest with you, but it doesn’t always showcase itself in results, so you can’t always say, ‘Look he’s getting better right here or he’s doing this well.’ You’ve just got to go week-to-week, play the games, continuously get better and just keep putting us in positions to win football games. That’s the job of the quarterback – put us in position to win football games. He’s been doing a heck of a job at that.”

Winston is coming off back-to-back 450-yard passing days, the only quarterback in league history to do that. But without Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, there is the fear that he will try to do too much with less experienced receivers.

“He’s just got to play," Leftwich said. "I mean (if) you lose Mike and you lose Chris – who are you kidding, right? You are losing two of the best on the planet. So, we have an awareness of that. Then, Scotty (Miller) is down, so our room changed quick. A lot has changed on us in seven or eight days. This is the league. This is what we prepare for.

"We always speak, ‘Next guy up.’ I tell you guys all the time, I really believe in that. It’s my job as the coach to try to put these guys in position to do what they can do well, so hopefully they can make plays on [Saturday]. We are going to work our tails off this week, but once we get to the game, you’ve got to have all of the confidence in the world in these guys that they can go out and make some plays. We’ll see what happens.”

The Texans are 9-5 and leading the AFC South.

Houston hasn't had a great season defensively after losing J.J. Watt and trading Jadeveon Clowney.

“Well, (the Texans) have had time now to play without those guys, so they know what they are right now," Leftwich said. "You just look at last week – they played a real hot football team last week and (were) able to play those guys well enough to help their team win the football game. We know what we are up against. We are up against a well-coached team. We’re up against guys that know how to play (and) that have been playing good defense. A lot of those guys have been on that team for a while now, so they’ve been playing really good defense for a long time now, together. Now, those two guys are not there, but collectively the rest of those guys have been together and played together. They know how to play good football. We know they are well coached. We know they are going to come in here ready to play. These guys are playing for a division title walking into our stadium on Sunday, so we’ve just got to make sure we are ready to play.” 

Leftwich was asked if running back Ronald d Jones was still struggling with confidence.

“I don’t really think Ronald struggles with anything," Leftwich said. "I just think as a young player, there’s always room for growth. I wouldn’t call it a struggle thing because I don’t see it that way. You’ve got to think like this is a young player. This is a young player where little things like that may happen. That might not even be the case on every situation, but I don’t know a young running back out here that [doesn’t] try to score every time they touch it. That’s just the mindset that those guys that tote the ball have. He’s doing fine. We grew from last week. He’s grateful and can’t wait to have an opportunity this week.” 

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said his secondary is still learning. For instance, take the game-winning intercerception return by Sean Murphy-Bunting.

“He learned from it," Bowles said. "In the first quarter they ran the same play and he was too far off and he got beat on it. He was much more aware of it the next time around and he kind of baited him a little bit too it. I don’t know whether he baited him or not, but he understood the play that was coming, and made a heck of a play.”

Bowles said he knew that Shaq Barrett could be special.

“You knew he could rush the passer and you knew he had heavy hands," Bowles said. "You can never equate the number of sacks because quarterbacks getting rid of the ball, scrambles and the whole nine yards. But you knew once he gets going and he got on a roll, and you saw it happening every week, you got more and more encouraged. Nine in four weeks – that was pretty special right there, but I didn’t know how many he’d get before the season [ended].” 

Bowles said that Texans receiver Deandre Hopkins is among the best the Bucs have faced.

“I don’t know about the receivers we’ve faced, but in the league, in my opinion, he’s top two," Bowles said. "I don’t know who the other one is, but he’s one of the best in the league, obviously. His work ethic and him seeing single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage, competing, his hands – everything he does, he strives to be the best at it. So, he’s a tough matchup.” 

The Bucs are home against the Texans at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

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