Jameis Winston’s career got off to a rocky start last season when he was one-upped in the battle of top rookie quarterbacks in the Buccaneers’ blowout loss to Marcus Mariota and the Titans. But from there, things steadily improved for the 2015 No. 1 pick.
This winter head coach Lovie Smith was fired to clear the way for the promotion of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who will take on more responsibility after helping mold Winston during his first year. Koetter’s first shot at being a head coach is a huge opportunity; no Bucs coach has lasted more than three years since Jon Gruden left, and the team hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2007. An early sign that things are looking up: Reports out of Tampa say that Winston has lost 20 pounds ahead of his second camp as a pro. All that’s left to determine is how well Koetter balances his broader coaching duties with his work managing the growth of his franchise quarterback.
The Rookie: Noah Spence’s college career was rocky, to say the least, but that allowed Tampa Bay to scoop up the talented defensive end in the second round. Now is the time for Spence to prove himself. Coaches will have him on a short leash, but he is in position to make an early contribution to the defensive front if he stays out of trouble.
Position Battle Spoilers: Evan Smith was the starting center at the beginning of last season, but Joe Hawley took over when Smith sat a few games with an injury. Koetter has indicated that both will compete for that starting spot again. Hawley successfully plugged the hole when Smith was hurt in 2015, and he’ll win the spot in training camp, at least to start the season.
The Stat: 72.5%, the Bucs’ field goal percentage last season between their two kickers, Kyle Brindza and Connor Barth. That put them 30th in the league—the only teams who fared worse between the uprights were Los Angeles and New Orleans. Many laughed when the Bucs drafted kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round, but when the kicking situation is that laughable, taking a big swing for the closest the position comes to a sure-thing prospect is defensible.
Preseason Watchability Guide: The third game of the preseason against Cleveland will be nationally televised, giving the Bucs a peek at the new-look Browns. Winston’s workload in August should also indicate how much progress the coaching staff think he has made over his first full off-season as a pro.