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Winston eager to help improving Buccaneers take next step

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston can hardly wait to get started again.

The No. 1 overall pick in last year's NFL draft threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rookie, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on him to build on the promising debut and help transform the struggling franchise into winners.

The Bucs, coming off a 6-10 finish that cost former coach Lovie Smith his job, have missed the playoffs eight consecutive seasons and haven't won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl run.

The quest to end the long, frustrating drought resumes when they open their first training camp under Smith's replacement, former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, on July 28.

''When you win six football games, you've got a lot of stuff,'' to work on, Koetter said.

It helps, though, to have a young quarterback with the tools of Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner who capped his rookie year with a Pro Bowl appearance.

''He's smart, he's competitive, wants to win as much as we do,'' incoming offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. ''You can win a lot of games with guys like that.''

Koetter was promoted, in part, because of the role he played in helping the young quarterback's relatively smooth transition to the pro game. Winston's first NFL pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He enters his second season with a much deeper appreciation for how important it is to protect the football.

''Jameis is very perceptive, about not only what needs to get better, but what our offense and our team needs to get better,'' Koetter said.

For his part, Winston talks about ''getting better each and every day'' and continuing to evolve as a leader - on and off the field.

''Leadership means to serve others,'' Winston said. ''As long as I can serve the guys around me, I feel like I'm doing a good job ... and I know that they're going to want to do anything for me, just like I would for them.''

Some things to watch as the Buccaneers prepare to try to end a streak of five consecutive last-place finishes in the NFC South:

NEWCOMERS: After using his first two drafts in Tampa Bay to address deficiencies on offense, general manager Jason Licht turned his attention to the overall team this year. First-round CB Vernon Hargreaves III is being counted on to strengthen the secondary and second-round DE Noah Spence could bolster an anemic pass rush. A lot of eyes are on kicker Roberto Aguayo after Licht felt strong enough about his NFL potential that he traded up into the second round to make sure he got Winston's former college teammate.

DECEPTIVE STATS: The Bucs ranked fifth in total offense and 10th in total defense a year ago, the first time the club's finished in the top 10 in both categories in the same season. That didn't translate into a playoff berth because Tampa Bay was 20th in points scored and 26th in points allowed. After a 6-6 start, the team went 0-4 down the stretch.

ANNUAL SEARCH: One of Licht's top priorities this offseason was improving a pass rush led by Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy. DE Robert Ayers Jr. and CB Brent Grimes were added in free agency. The GM expects drafting Hargreaves and Spence will be part of the solution, too. The Bucs were tied for 14th in sacks with 38 a year ago. They haven't had a player finish with at least 10 in a season since 2005, when Simeon Rice had 14. DT Clinton McDonald said it's time to play another tune.

''After a while you hear a broken record so many times you're ready to change that record,'' McDonald said. ''It comes down to us being the players and being mature enough pros to say, `You know what? If this is what we want to be then this is what we have to go after to be.' It's time for us to step up our game, bring some wins to the Tampa Bay area and have everybody around here proud of us, ready to wear that red and pewter hat.''

RUN DOUGIE RUN: The team's biggest move in free agency was re-signing RB Doug Martin to a five-year, $37.75 million contract. He rushed for 1,402 yards and six TDs last season, taking some of the pressure off Winston to carry an offense also relying on two other rookie starters, tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet.

BUILDING CHEMISTRY: Winston and WR Mike Evans spent a lot of time together this offseason, working out and developing a bond they hope will make them an even more productive tandem. Evans had 74 catches and topped 1,000 yards receiving for the second time last year, however he had only three TD receptions; he had 11 as a rookie in 2014.

''The bottom line is still wins in the NFL. And for us to win, Jameis and Mike have to become a more lethal combination,'' Koetter said, ''and I'm quite confident they will.''


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