by Alex Poletti
It’s a make-or-break year for former first-overall pick Jameis Winston, who can declare free agency at the end of the season. Up to this point, the Tampa Bay quarterback has failed to live up to expectations, leading Winston to stay late after a preseason practice to throw 20 more interceptions.
“This man is more dedicated than ever,” Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians says. “He’s going to work on his technique until it is flawless. And right now, it’s pretty close. The way he perfectly releases the ball, and how it perfectly travels right into the cornerback’s hands—that’s something special.”
Winston has had a rough go of things in his NFL career, accruing 58 interceptions over four years, including 14 in just 11 starts in 2018. Things got so bad that the Bucs started Ryan Fitzpatrick on opening day. This year, though, the only legitimate backup for Tampa Bay is Blaine Gabbert, so the Bucs are more or less stuck with Winston.
“I need to prove that I can still do what I do best,” Winston says. “And not just for the Bucs, not just for the teams that can sign me in free agency, but for me. I need to prove to myself that I can still throw interceptions better than anyone else. And that’s why after practice, I go out there with just a wide receiver and cornerback, and do my best to hit the wrong target every time.”
Winston admits that it hasn’t been easy; on several occasions, he completed a pass on accident. However, more often than not, the Heisman winner successfully forces a turnover.
“It’s difficult, ya know?” Winston continues. “Sometimes, you just go on auto-pilot and accidentally throw the ball to the intended receiver. But if you keep your focus, I’ve found that it’s possible to throw pick after pick. It just takes a lot of effort and practice, but I’m willing to work hard at it.”
The Pro Bowler reveals that he hopes to add some hardware to his trophy case by season’s end.
“I think this is the year for me. I want to win Player of the Year,” the Florida State alum says. “Defensive Player of the Year, I mean. If I force the most turnovers and do most of the work for opposing defenses, I think I should be eligible for that award.”