Jameis Winston traces his motivation to win an NFL championship all the way to when he attended a football camp at age 11 or 12 and Bruce Arians was there.
“At the camp, he brought his Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl) ring and showed all of us,” Winston said, “and that was one of the first times when I was just like, ‘Man, I want to get me one of those rings.’ ”
Arians has two of those rings from his years as an assistant coach with the Steelers. His quest to win one as a head coach hit a speed bump when Arizona lost its season opener at home against New England 23-21.
Now he must face Winston’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the second-year quarterback coming off one of his best games in a 31-24 season-opening win at Atlanta.
Winston completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns, a performance that earned NFC offensive player of the week honors. His 122.6 passer rating was third best on opening weekend, behind Drew Brees (131.3) and Matthew Stafford (128.6).
Back at that camp, even at such a young age, Winston made an impression.
“Just a tremendous athlete,” Arians said. “A very bright guy, but with a cannon for an arm. He was probably throwing 90 miles an hour fastballs back then in the ninth, 10th grade.”
So the Cardinals are well aware of the young player’s talent and his improvement since last season. Winston credits a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season for his newly sculpted physique.
“I saw Julio Jones walking around, Julius Peppers, all those guys like that,” he said. “I was like, ‘Yep, it’s time for me to hit the weight room.’ ”
But Koetter said it’s incorrect to say Winston lost weight.
“That whole dropped-the-weight thing is blown a little bit out of proportion,” Koetter said. “… He’s still a 230-pound quarterback. He just redistributed his body.”
But the Cardinals are also aware of the talent the up-and-coming Buccaneers have around Winston, including running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Mike Evans.
“The Buccaneers are a physical football team,” Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “They’re going to run the ball down our throat, and we feel like they have a really good quarterback that can make every throw. We’re going to get challenged up front and on the back end.”
Martin is one of the top young, versatile running backs in the NFL, but Arizona has David Johnson, who is also a threat not only carrying the ball but catching it. In the season opener, Martin rushed for 62 yards on 18 carries and caught five passes for 34 yards. Johnson gained 89 yards on 16 attempts and caught four for 43 yards.
The Buccaneers’ run and pass threats create a problem for Arizona, which put All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson on an opponent’s best receiver the entire game, a tactic that worked well, last season. But Arizona did not play that way against New England, using a lot of zone to help out rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, who still struggled. So don’t expect to see Peterson exclusively on Evans on Sunday.
“We’ll see,” Arians said. “They have two good ones (Evans and Vincent Jackson) and they’re both tall. We’ll see if we want to match up or we’ll see if we want to just play sides.”
Who: Tampa Bay (1-0) at Arizona (0-1)
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Radio: 620 AM, 103.5 FM