Rose Bowl. 2015.
Operating from the Oregon 30, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston receives the snap in shotgun formation, drops two steps and settles in to begin making his reads. Pressure from his right causes him to slide a few steps forward in the pocket, and then suddenly the Benny Hill music starts playing.
After spinning, whirling, starting, and stopping, Winston pratfalls backward, the ball comes out, the referee slips and falls like Kramer in the liquor store, and the Ducks deliver the dagger to the Seminoles.
It was a head scratching moment for a Heisman-winning future franchise quarterback, and it became a harbinger of Winston’s NFL career.
In fairness to Winston, the moments aren’t routine, but they happen often enough to raise real questions regarding whether he simply tries too hard, whether his abilities don’t match what he thinks his abilities are. The potential for one of those what-was-he-thinking? plays has become part of Winston’s overall game, and it’s one of the reasons why Winston has yet to get a second contract from the Buccaneers. And why the Bucs haven’t eaten many W’s.
Enter coach Bruce Arians, a self-styled quarterback whisperer who is more like a quarterback tell-it-like-it-is-er. His basic advice to Winston? “Stop throwing it to the other team.”
Whether Arians can get Winston to follow that mandate remains to be seen. He has the potential to be a Pro Bowler, but 58 interceptions in four years (including 14 in 11 games last season) have kept him from being as good as he can be.
A stretch of five straight wins in 2016 had Winston looking like a potential MVP candidate. A heartfelt letter to each of his teammates prior to a game at Kansas City sparked an upset over the Chiefs, laying the foundation for a Sunday night flex against the Cowboys. But a three-interception night in Dallas contributed to a 26-20 loss, and that’s the closest Winston and the Bucs have come to being relevant.
The challenge for Arians will be to immediately make the Buccaneers relevant. It’s a boom-or-bust proposition for a team that prematurely cut bait on Dirk Koetter. Success will get a second contract for Winston, and it could put Arians in position for his third coach of the year award. Failure could force Winston prematurely into the clipboard phase of his career, compelling him to watch and wait for an opportunity to play if/when the starter is injured or ineffective.
Much is riding on whether Arians can help Winston do what he needs to do, in order to keep doing what he’s done at the starting quarterback in Tampa. Otherwise, he could be done as a starting quarterback in the NFL.