Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter believes in Jameis Winston

By The Sports Xchange
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston waits for the snap in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on December 17, 2015. St. Louis defeated Tampa Bay 31-23. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston waits for the snap in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on December 17, 2015. St. Louis defeated Tampa Bay 31-23. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter was impressed with the rookie performance of quarterback Jameis Winston. But there was a time when he favored Marcus Mariota over the Florida State star.

"I was probably one of the last people holding out going through the whole process last year. There was plenty of other people convinced way before I was that this was the guy," Koetter said of Winston at the NFL Scouting Combine. "And all the things people were telling us, all the way up to (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher and I've said this before, I've heard all that before. I've heard all those superlatives thrown around.


"I was only a holdout in that we were basically comparing two really good players: Jameis and Marcus Mariota. Both really, really good players. And my job that I was assigned was more the film evaluation part. So other people were evaluating all the other stuff. But as we got to pro days and we got around the other coaches, you've got to remember, (Oregon coach) Mark Helfrich was a (grad assistant) for me at Oregon and was a quarterbacks coach at Boise and Idaho State. Mark is telling me, 'Marcus Mariota, you guys are idiots, you're not going to draft Marcus Mariota? You guys are stupid.'


"Well, that's a guy I'm really close to. Now, you've got to take that with a grain of salt the way you take Jimbo Fisher. But usually in this business, if you've worked with someone, you know if they're BS-ing you or not and I'm not saying anyone is. But I guess the biggest point here is it became clear that both guys had good intangibles.

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"Until you've been in a season with someone and see what a guy will do when he's getting hit and when the game is on the line and see it this close ... we had a couple really bad games early when Jameis comes off the field and you learn so much about Jameis during the season. What a worker he is, how much he cares about winning and cares about his teammates.

"I mean, Jameis made some plays with his legs that I was going, 'I never saw that coming.' He never showed me that in OTAs or training camp or preseason. I wasn't expecting him to run and dive over guys in the end zone or to make that run he made in that second Atlanta game. That's heart, that's willpower and desire to win. Now, I'm a true believer that Jameis is off the charts."


Of course, Koetter is thrilled Winston proved him and a lot of detractors wrong, passing for 4,024 yards and accounting for 28 touchdowns (22 passing) while being selected to the Pro Bowl.

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"Until you're actually in there for a full season and you see how this guy comes to work, he's in the facility at 5:45 in the morning, and you just see that really is him," Koetter said.

It didn't help matters when Winston's first NFL pass against the Titans was intercepted and returned for a touchdown while Mariota fired four touchdown passes in the Bucs' 42-14 loss on opening day.

"It was tough," Koetter admits. "When Tennessee's offense was out there I was on the bench so I don't know how good that looked. I know how bad we looked, when the first pass of the game is a pick six. So I was looking at, my job is to find a way to help Jameis be successful, find a way to for us to move the ball and score points. And I failed. I failed in that game. So I know Jameis felt bad. Hell, I felt horrible. But we got better."

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--A few weeks ago, the Bucs believed running back Doug Martin might make it to free agency. Wednesday, general manager Jason Licht didn't rule out that possibility but said he was optimistic the team could reach an agreement with the NFL's second-leading rusher from last season.


Licht planned to meet this week in Indianapolis with Martin's agent, Brian Murphy. Though the sides were not believed to be close and Licht has said there are options in the draft and free agency at running back, the negotiations have a positive vibe.

"We'll be meeting with Doug's people here. We've got a couple of things going for us here on that one," Licht said at the Combine. "I know he wants to be a Buc, and I know that we want him to be a Buc.

"I'm sure there will be some obstacles - there always are in negotiations - but we'll prepare for either way. I'm optimistic, and we'll continue talking with him."

Martin, 27, has had two great seasons with the Bucs sandwiched around two injury-filled ones. Among the younger options at running back is the Dolphins' Lamar Miller, who turns 25 in April. The Bucs also haven't ruled out using Charles Sims in an expanded role, though it's clear they prefer that he not be the primary ball carrier.

"Charles had a nice year for us, and we think the world of Charles," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "The role that he played last year was more of a complementary role, and he did a great job in that role. When Charles was drafted, I know the feeling was he could be an every-down back if need be. We'll see how that plays out."


--Guard Logan Mankins will decide in a few weeks either to play in 2016 or retire, the Bucs said. But it's clear they are prepared to move on without him.

"I've talked to Logan, and he's still working through it," Koetter said. "A guy like Logan, he knows the time line. We haven't put a deadline on it or anything.

"We would love to have Logan back. His decision isn't going to have any sort of hindrance on what we're planning on doing for the future. You've got to build, you've got to look three years ahead, so his decision isn't going to hurt us in any way right now with what we're planning on doing."

--Winston's selection to the Pro Bowl had a hidden bonus. Winston was impressed by the physical conditioning of players such as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, Koetter said.

"First of all, Jameis was real impressed by how professional Julio was, how serious he was even though (the Pro Bowl is) a relaxing game, and then how put together he was (physically)," Koetter said. "And I told Jameis, 'Well, Julio's body didn't (always) look like that. He's always been blessed, but Julio works at it.' I've seen that with my own eyes.


"(Winston) gave me an example. He goes, 'Coach, we were having a little walk-through and Julio was over there getting stretched out.' Jameis notices that kind of stuff. That's how he is."

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