The Buccaneers knew exactly what they were getting into when they drafted a quarterback first overall last year.
“That’s an entire organization decision,” coach Dirk Koetter said Wednesday. “So that goes from ownership, management, down into coaching.
“And I would think that you would be signing up for patience.”
Here’s why: In the encore to his Pro Bowl rookie season, Jameis Winston is 25th among qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating, 29th in completion percentage and 25th in yards per attempt. Only three men have thrown more interceptions, and 10 have been sacked more frequently.
Since Week 7, though, he’s thrown eight touchdowns and one interception with a 105.2 passer rating that ranks fifth in the league.
Let that be a timely reminder for Bears fans clamoring for GM Ryan Pace to draft a quarterback in the first round: if the decision proves a success, it’s rarely, if ever, an overnight one. Progress is not linear, even for the draftee with perhaps the best on-field skills since Andrew Luck.
No one questions the eventual payoff — “I think they’ve got their quarterback for the future,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said — even if the development hasn’t yet born fruit. It’s not wholly unusual; ranked by passer rating this season, only four of the NFL’s top 20 quarterbacks were drafted in the last three years.
Winston has the physical tools — Fangio compared his pocket elusiveness to that of Ben Roethlisberger — yet the 3-5 Buccaneers are on pace to match the 6-10 mark that got Lovie Smith fired last year.
“I want to win more and more games,” Winston told Tampa reporters in a separate interview Wednesday. “But confidence-wise, it’s easy, because I’m not a loser.”
Winston’s improvement has been more holistic. He’s working on his accuracy — “Instead of aiming or throwing at a guy’s left shoulder, you aim at a little white piece on his shoulder pad,” he said — and his leadership. A captain this season, Winston is the most vocal member of the Buccaneers’ offense.
Koetter, the Bucs’ offensive coordinator last year, said he was a good leader from Day 1, even if he deferred to veterans as a rookie.
“Jameis just has a natural charisma about him anyway,” Koetter said. “I think if you talk to anybody associated with our team, they would recognize that.”
He’s learned how to better handle for the NFL’s rigors, be it via preparation or by compartmentalizing tasks.
“Every week is a different week and every week is the biggest week,” said Winston, who is 181-for-306 with 17 touchdowns, nine interceptions and 254.6 passing yards per game this year. “Just taking things day by day, looking into the game plan, understanding the game plan, understanding everything that you’ve got to do and knowing that the next game is the most important game.
“Not looking ahead. Not looking behind. But owning that game.”
Koetter joked that, beside patience, a media blackout would help a young quarterback.
“I don’t have any rules on it, but that’s probably what should be required, because you just can’t please everybody,” he said. “And no matter what progress you make, the quarterback, in general, is going to get too much credit when we win and too much blame when we lose.
“When you’re the first pick in the draft and, when a guy’s the first pick in the draft, he usually goes to a team that doesn’t have 21 Pro Bowlers around him.”
Koetter called the Panthers “a good model for us” — they drafted not only quarterback Cam Newton, but inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, and built around both.
Teams can’t win without a quarterback, but a quarterback, most of the time, can’t win without help.
That help takes time.
“The whole patience thing,” Koetter said, “That’s sometimes in other people’s hands.”