TAMPA, Florida — Jameis Winston gets to work at 5:45 a.m., before anyone else is in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ building. He stays until everyone else is gone. Before a game, he personally fist-bumps every one of his teammates and tells them, “I’ve got your back.”
If you’ve watched the first two episodes of “Hard Knocks,” you already know this. And if you think it’s all for show, you’re not totally wrong. But the show goes on even when the cameras aren’t there. And the show isn’t for us. It’s for his teammates.
“Honestly, that’s just a mentality,” Winston, the Bucs’ third-year quarterback, said after a late July training camp practice. “I could come in just like everyone else, but the fact that I’m up here first, it gives everyone that trust factor. That’s a form of leadership for people to just look at, and instead of waking up and just coming in 10 minutes before a meeting, they look and say, ‘Jameis was up in here at 5:45. Maybe I’ll come in at least 30 minutes before.'”
So yeah, Winston is image-conscious. But it isn’t his public image that matters to him. Winston wants to make sure he’s projecting the right image of leadership within the walls of One Buc Place, at all times, for his teammates and coaches to see. That’s why veterans and rookies alike speak of Winston with reverent smiles on their faces. That’s why, looking back on the decision they had to make at the top of the 2015 draft, the Buccaneers are sure they got it right.
“I like Marcus Mariota, and the question comes up all the time, and I always say it’s fine if both of them become good,” Bucs GM Jason Licht said of the quarterback who went No. 2 overall to the Tennessee Titans. “That’s a great thing. That’s what I want. I’d be excited if I were the GM and Marcus Mariota were the quarterback. [Titans GM] Jon Robinson should be jacked up. But it was … this town, this team needed that leader. We needed to change the culture. And he’s that guy. And you know, he’s pretty special.”
Winston, whose Bucs take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at 8 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN, is only 23 years old, yet he has the Bucs convinced that they have their man — a franchise quarterback who combines all the requisite physical tools with a sincere devotion to his position’s considerable intangibles.
Tampa Bay spent its offseason beefing up Winston’s arsenal of passing-game targets, signing veteran free-agent wideout DeSean Jackson and drafting tight end O.J. Howard in the first round. Believing they have their guy, they’re in the mode of building as strong a team as possible around him. The Bucs finished 9-7 last season and barely missed the playoffs, and they’re hoping to build on that and put Winston in position to play — and win — his first NFL postseason games.
For his part, Winston recognizes his place in his team’s leadership structure and works on it the same way he works on footwork and throwing mechanics. He took a class on leadership at Florida State this offseason. Asked why, he flashed a wide, self-deprecating smile.
“Because I’m trying to graduate,” he said. “That’s why I did it. But I learned a lot from it. One of the most important things I learned from it: The best way to lead is to be a follower. If you’re willing to serve others, that’s the way you can get guys to be willing to serve you.”