How does a #1 Overall Pick Quarterback become a simple “take it or leave it” option of little to no consequence in a five year period? The Bucs come into 2019 bristling with the hope that is tempered by reality. The Bucs, though talented, grotesquely underachieve. How is it that an offense with Peyton Barber, Cameron Brate, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Adam Humphries, and DeSean Jackson manage only 3 wins in 2017 when led by Jameis Winston and a meager 3 wins in 2018 with Winston as the triggerman as well? It’s a combination of factors that aren’t really that complex. The coaching staff was overly accommodating and doting with the players and opponents feasted on the Bucs’ miscues on the field. There seemed to be little accountability until October 28, 2018, in Cincinnati with the benching of Jameis Winston. Somehow it had a posthumous feel to it. It was for Koetter and his staff—but was Winston becoming an “option” as well?
With the canning of Koetter, the Bucs landed Bruce Arians who had previously intimated his choice was the Cleveland Browns. For whatever reason, the Browns seemed disinterested and I’d say this is a great fortune for the Bucs–and likely Winston. Arians does not mince words. He’s assembled an All-Star cast of “fix it” men and women with a superb record of results-oriented attention-to-detail. Arians stated early on that Offensive Coordinator, Byron Leftwich, and Quarterbacks Coach, Clyde Christensen will focus on Jameis’ “decision-making”, “footwork” and “mechanical issues”. if anyone has watched Jameis over the last four years, a “Hallelujah” seems in order. There’s been flailing and tailing on some of those throws leading to some frustrated open route-runners. Christensen has watched every throw and has dissected problematic areas with Jameis to ascertain what he sees with 21 other men moving on the field. Diagnosis is important to Christensen. You can’t cure anything without it. Last week, Arians noted:
“I think about 70 percent is upstairs. He has improved, I think, dramatically – his footwork and stuff because he’s worked so hard at it. And that helps because that stops that high hot one down the middle. That high hot one down the middle doesn’t have anything to do with your brain. It’s your technique. That’s usually where he gets in trouble, firing one down the middle that’s high and hot. And we’ve worked a lot, talking about second base throws rather than where a guy has to reach above his head.”
Arians, Leftwich, and Christensen are seemingly moving toward forcing conventional quarterbacking on Winston. Winston’s last quarterback coach, Mike Bajakian wanted to continue that repetition as well, However, Winston continued to struggle with clean pockets and unobstructed views. Bajakian had actually improved Winston from one of the league’s slowest release average of 2.88 in 2016. Dirk Koetter, Todd Monken and Winston went against that trek and incorporated more “scramble drill” type plays to get Winston on the move—his comfort zone. It did help Winston cosmetically, but often seemed to sabotage team efforts. Koetter and Monken were accommodating Winston by allowing him to have the football longer. Ironically, the unsafe place in America for a football is in Winston’s hands. Most quarterbacks actually like crisp three-step and five-step drops and timely releases. Having the right foot hit at about 1.4 seconds on a three-step and 2.2 seconds on a five-step is the norm. Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and into the hands of the playmakers. This is back where Arians, Leftwich, and Christensen have landed. They’ll likely have some plays to take advantage of Winston’s improvisational abilities. The staple of the passing game will depend on Winston’s “decision-making”, “footwork” along with resolving his “mechanical issues” to make him more effective from the pocket. Arians, Leftwich, and Christensen are aware the Bucs had 5 wins and a league-leading 35 turnovers in 2018. On the other end of the pendulum, the Seattle Seahawks had 10 wins and 11 turnovers. The Bucs must fix their ball security or another 5-win season will seem like a bonus with their daunting 2019 schedule. And Winston must set the example. If he can’t, he won’t be mandatory—and in fact, will remain optional.