TAMPA -- Jameis Winston is the face of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise, having had that torch passed to him by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
"I love Jameis, man," McCoy said. "He's like my brother. I referred to him as the face of the franchise, because he is. When they show commercials of the Bucs, they're not showing Gerald. They're showing Jameis. That's for a reason, and I'm happy about that. If your quarterback is the face of your franchise, usually that tags to winning or going in a positive direction. I'm excited about it."
However, a perception grew last season that McCoy, a four-time Pro-Bowl player and de facto Face of the Franchise, wasn't comfortable with all the attention suddenly thrust on Winston.
But McCoy says nothing was ever further from the truth. All he wanted to do was take the pressure off Winston. As the third overall pick in 2010, whose first two seasons ended on injured reserve, McCoy knows how it feels to be swallowed whole by expectations.
It wasn't much different than the Bucs' decision to keep Winston's face off the four corners of Raymond James Stadium as a rookie.
"We were missing a franchise quarterback. Every team needs that guy," McCoy said. "I believe very early on, Jameis Winston was the guy. So I said he will, after this year, maybe sooner, be that guy. When it came about sooner than everybody expected, I think the misperception was Jameis is getting all the publicity now, Gerald is so used to being the guy, he can't handle it.
"I was injured my first two years. There was a time when I was considered a bust. I had to work my way out of that to even be considered a perennial Pro Bowler. Another thing people miss is if we do have a franchise quarterback and who is getting a lot of publicity, something tells me he's doing something associated with positivity and winning. So why on Earth would a person who has been here losing for six seasons not want that to be? That does not make sense to me. I re-signed with this team because I believe we can win. Now we have the piece to do that and I want to take issue with it?"
McCoy and Winston have never spoken about the perceived schism. There was never any need to. McCoy was supportive of Winston since the day he became the first overall pick from Florida State.
"I met his parents and his family and told them, 'I'm going to take care of your son. You don't have to worry about him while he's here in Tampa.' I did that because I know the pressure that comes with being a first-round pick."
Winston started slowly last season. His first NFL pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and he threw seven picks in his first four games. But he finished strong, passing for 4,042 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while rushing for six scores.
As he did as a rookie, Winston was expected to stand at the door and greet every player as they reported to training camp. The Bucs are a young team galvanized behind the leadership of their precocious quarterback.
"I know Jameis Winston is my favorite teammate I've ever approached the game with," receiver Kenny Bell said. "The attitude he brings every single day, his approach to the game, his dedication to greatness, the guy just impresses. There's no question about it. I love playing with the guy."
So does McCoy and other veteran leaders such as Vincent wide receiver Jackson, and linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. It's Winston's team and his time.
"I said in his second year, Jameis Winston will be the NFL MVP and people destroyed me for that," McCoy said. "You know why I said that? Because I truly believe in this kid that much."
Winston said he needs more from McCoy.
"I just talked to him after the season ... I believe Gerald is a great leader," Winston said after the Bucs' first practice of training camp. "I just know that he has a little bit more in him. You should have seen him out here working with Noah Spence and Kourtnei Brown, things he puts into these players, even me. He's put so much into me. I just asked him to keep doing it, bring it up a notch, step it up, just like I have to do, just like we all have to do."