The Dirk Koetter era is officially underway with the opening of fall practice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but make no mistake —this is Jameis Winston’s team.
Patience is thin at One Buc Place. The last two coaches lasted two years, and the one before them survived three under the ownership of the Glazer family.
How Winston goes will determine whether Koetter is another short-term rental.
It’s a reason the head coach is feeling good. The strides his second-year quarterback has made can put you that kind of mood.
What’s the biggest improvement Koetter expects to see from last season to now?
That was an easy opener.
“Just Jameis, the way he handles every single day. I thought he did a great job today of taking what the defense gave him,” Koetter said. “He knew exactly where to go with the football and just to be under control. I don’t think Jameis turned it over at all today.”
The Bucs are past the stage of worrying about how many times Jameis is going to turn it over.
Most of the Jameis worries are in the rear-view mirror. It’s the Jameis effect.
The coach was one of the last holdouts last year pushing for the Bucs to chose Marcus Mariota, but Jameis won him over quickly.
“I’m fully on board, and it’s nice. It’s a great thing to have,” Koetter said. “We have a lot of good football players on our team, but from a leadership standpoint, Jameis sets the tone.”
Winston brings that loving feeling to the Bucs. His enthusiasm is contagious, and his work ethic would bring a smile to any coach.
He doesn’t put any limitations on how much he needs to improve.
“Everything in my game. I have to get better at everything from footwork to keep maintaining my body,” Winston said. “And I’m going to keep getting better my whole career. It’s never too bad to keep getting better. I’m never going to be where I need to be.”
Koetter’s job is to put the best pieces around him and despite the Jameis love fest that could be a daunting task.
The Bucs lack depth and top end speed at receiver, and injuries, particularly to Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson, could be devastating.
Koetter wants Winston to improve on his long ball. Last year on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air the FSU product was 14-53 for 453 yards. He was also hit 109 times, which was the second most in the NFL behind Russell Wilson. Oh, and the Bucs scored only 52.9 percent of their trips into the red zone, which ranked 22nd in the league.
The message Winston brings is that anything is attainable and nothing impossible.
“We want to be the thermostat and not the thermometer. We want to set a high mentality, high tempo, get the juices flowing and get some excitement out here,” he said. “We have Bucs vision, which is ‘compete’. That’s what we’re out here to do. We’re out here to compete and have some fun and ball out.”
The best thing about the offense is that it’s the same as last year when Koetter was the offensive coordinator. He says he will be less involved this season because of his duties as head coach, but the basics are there.
“We get to play fast, that’s the main thing,” Evans said. “Last year, we came into training camp not being able to play fast as we wanted. Now, we don’t have to learn a new offense so that’s great. We’re familiar with it, we like this offense and we’re ready to go.”
Evans could be the barometer. He needs to improve on last year when his touchdown catches dropped from 12 in 2014 to three and he led in the NFL with 11 drops perhaps because he was too busy fighting with officials.
Evans come from a childhood that can leave a person with a lot of anger issues, but to his credit he is fighting those demons.
“Last year, I had a lot of personal foul penalties and offensive pass interference and things like that,” he said. “This year, I think it’ll be much different. I’m going to calm it down and just play my game and not worry about what those guys are doing.”
When Jackson went down last year Evans was getting doubled when the Bucs were in the red zone, which cut down his production. But his hope as with most of the offense rests with Winston.
“He keeps improving, like you say his deep ball is getting better. He is in better shape. I’m excited to see what we can do together,” Evans said.