TAMPA -- On the night the Tampa Bay Bucs chose Jameis Winston with the first pick in the NFL draft a loud roar boomed throughout Raymond James Stadium with thousands of fans shouting their approval.
They see the young man who led FSU to to a national title as a redshirt freshmen and lost only one game in two seasons running the Seminoles offense, as their savior.
The infatuation continues as the Bucs inch closer to the regular season opener on September 13 when they face Tennessee and its rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was selected second overall.
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith has put his future on the line with Winston and said he has no second thoughts. But he emphasizes patience is needed. The NFL and college football are about as different as it gets.
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"I don't buy what's happening in the past is going to happen right now. Forget Tallahassee," Smith said after the Bucs first preseason game when Winston got off to a slow start and was inconsistent.
After a tumultuous off the field career at FSU Winston has been a model citizen, who doesn't boast about himself preferring to give credit to his teammates.
"I don't believe it's my team. it's our team," Winston said. "It's my role to play quarterback for this team right now. We have some great leaders and we have some great guys surrounding me. This is a 'we' team, not a 'my' team."
Long suffering Bucs fans see him as the answer to their prayers, owners look at him as someone who can fill those empty seats and generate excitement for a franchise that has spent the last four years in the NFC South basement.
For Smith and more so general manager Jason Licht, Winston is the person who will likely determine how long a future they have with the team.
The reality is that becoming a successful NFL quarterback is a process that takes years. The one thing Winston has done is shed the bad boy image he had at FSU. Now the question is whether he has the skill to be a franchise quarterback.
"I am just trying to get better everyday and not put any extra pressure on myself or my teammates," Winston said.
At 6-5, 230 pounds Winston is not the most athletic quarterback, but he has a strong arm, shows good pocket mobility and knows how to get out of trouble. There is a concern that his gunslinger mentality causes him to take too many chances, which resulted in 18 interceptions last year at FSU.
But that same attitude is what made Brett Favre great and Winston has a nice set of receivers in 6-5 Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans along with 6-5 tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Add third receiver 6-2 Louis Murphy and he has an array of inviting targets.
Unfortunately the key for any successful quarterback is the offensive line and that is a big concern for the Bucs. They had one of the worst offensive lines in the league last year, which is why Tampa ranked 29th in rushing offense and tied for 29th in allowing 52 sacks.
"You had the first pick in the draft and there's a lot that comes with that, but there is a lot of other things that we're excited about also," Smith said. "It's a team sport and our team has looked good. Four of five positions. I'm anxious to see exactly how they respond."
The Bucs invested heavily in the free agent market last year for offensive linemen and paid big money to Anthony Collins. He was a bust and his failure along with others has put Licht's skills as a general manager in question.
This year they selected mammoth tackle Donovan Smith (6-6, 338) and guard Ali Marpet in the second round of the NFL draft for their offensive line and are hoping they can join holdovers in center Evan Smith, guard Logan Mankins and tackle Demar Dotson.
Unfortunately Dotson, the best of the unit, injured his knee in he first pre-season game and will be sidelined for awhile. Mankins is on the downside of his career and Smith is average.
The bottom line is this is not the kind of offensive line you want to protect a young quarterback.
On the plus side the running back situation should improve with Doug Martin looking like he played during his rookie season in 2012. He appears healthy and hungry and the depth is decent with the serviceable Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey.
The most encouraging thing regarding the Bucs is that they finally have an offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter. Last year's OC Jeff Tedford never got into the job because of health reasons and his replacement Marcus Arroyo was in over his head.
Koetter spent eight years as offensive coordinator for Jacksonville (5 years) and then Atlanta. He showed his versatility molding an attack centered around Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and then Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. His work with Ryan appears to give him the right experience to help Winston because of the similarities of the two quarterbacks. In two of his years with Atlanta the Falcons ranked eighth in total offense.
Jackson, the Bucs leading receiver since he arrived in 2012, is a big proponent of Koetter's offense. His production slipped a little last year with only two TD receptions but a lot of that was due to the Bucs offense being in disarray and the presence of then rookie receiver Mike Evans, who caught 12 TD passes.
"We are doing more up-tempo stuff, we're charting some speeds of the the plays and dictating a little bit more to the defense. That's exciting," Jackson said.
Smith is all about defense. It's what earned him success for Chicago where he made three playoff appearances and one Super Bowl in his 9 years as head coach, compiling a record second only to Mike Ditka in Bears' history.
The Bucs defense last year was inconsistent. Smith employed a version of the Tampa 2 defense that he ran under Tony Dungy when they coached the Bucs. It takes a while to learn and the growing pains were evident especially in the early part of the season. There was marked improvement as the players became more familiar with his system. It relies heavily on a strong rush from the front four. If that fails breakdowns can occur all over the field.
Smith has decided to take over the defensive play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, a move he had been considering after last year's 2-14 season.
The Bucs have one of the league's best defensive tackles in Gerald McCoy. He is surrounded by some talent on the interior front line with 2012 Pro Bowler Henry Melton, Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence, who will be out until October following back surgery.
There are question marks at defensive end with the acquisition of George Johnson from Detroit, a career backup, and second year pro and waiver claim Jacques Smith who had 6.5 sacks in a part time role with the Bucs last season. The edge rushers are crucial in Smith's defense and there doesn't seem to be anyone to rave about heading into the season.
McCoy led the Bucs with 8.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits, but he can't do it alone. High priced free agent Michael Johnson who Licht brought in last year failed and s gone.
The Bucs like what they have in All Pro linebacker Lavonte David. They brought in Bruce Carter because they like his coverage skills, but he has slipped to the second unit in part because of the play off rookie Kwon Alexander from LSU.
The Bucs appear set at cornerback with 2013 Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner and Jonthan Banks with Southeast product Mike Jenkins as the backup. Chris Conte, who played safety for Smith in Chicago, figures to start at one safety spot with Bradley McDougald at the other.
There is not what you would call elite talent in the secondary, but it's not needed if the rest of the defense works the way Smith has designed it.
When Smith first arrived in Tampa he stressed how important special teams are to him. Unfortunately they've been less than special under his watch. Punter Michael Koenen ranked last in the league in 2014 and the Bucs spent the entire season searching for the second coming of Devin Hester to no avail. In pre-season the job as all but been handed to Kaelin Clay. Time will tell whether that's the right decision. Patrick Murphy has worked out as the field goal kicker.