Jameis Winston working to leave off-field problems behind

Associated Press

March 31, 2015

This is a Feb. 21, 2015, file photo showing Jameis Winston at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Winston has spent much of the past two months crisscrossing the nation, sharpening his quarterback skills and trying to convince NFL teams he's learned from mistakes made off the field and ready to become the face of a franchise.

TAMPA, Fla. Jameis Winston has spent much of the past two months crisscrossing the nation, sharpening his quarterback skills and trying to convince NFL teams he's learned from mistakes made off the field and ready to become the face of a franchise.

A lot of his effort was geared toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have the first pick this year's NFL draft.

Heading into Winston's pro day at Florida State on Tuesday, by all accounts the 2013 Heisman winner has made a strong impression.

All the Bucs' decision-makers, coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jason Licht, and maybe even more importantly the Glazer family, which owns the team, appear to be comfortable with Winston's history of off-the-field issues.

"I realize he has made some mistakes, gotten himself in some situations he would like to do over, but we don't see anything that we can't help him with," Smith said during last week's NFL spring meetings in Phoenix, Arizona.

"We think that's behind him, and that's why we feel comfortable," the coach added. "You can't indict young people for some stupid things that they do. We all clean up."

Winston made it a point to show he's capable of doing just that, despite his checkered past.

He faced a sexual assault allegation, but was never charged in the alleged incident. He walked out of a supermarket without paying for $32 worth of crab legs and suspended three baseball games, then missed a football game after climbing on a table in the FSU student union and shouting an "offensive and vulgar" comment about women.

Winston hasn't shied away from questions about his past.

In addition to being interviewed by Tampa Bay and other teams during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, the 20-year-old visited and toured the Bucs headquarters in March, meeting with Smith, Licht and the three Glazer brothers who run the team.

Winston also requested and received a meeting this month with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

The young quarterback is represented by The Legacy Agency, whose high-profile football clients include running backs DeMarco Murray and Reggie Bush.

He has said he does not plan to attend the draft in Chicago, instead choosing to stay home in Alabama to enjoy the occasion with family and friends.

Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer told the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times during the meetings in Phoenix that based on extensive research Tampa Bay has done the owners would be comfortable with using the No. 1 pick on either Winston or 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, the draft's other top quarterback prospect.

Smith reiterated his belief that Winston's off-field missteps have been more the result of the quarterback making immature choices than Winston being a bad kid.

"We are saying that he's done some things that are not OK, and we don't feel like in the future he would make those same type of decisions," the coach said. "You have to look in the eye and feel comfortable with the answers you're getting. He's admitted the mistakes he's made, and I'm one who believes in second chances."

With everyone signing off on any character questions, that would make it simply a football decision.

Winston has worked this winter in San Diego, California, with private quarterbacks tutor George Whitfield, spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with former San Francisco 49ers and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, and also showcased his arm and athletic ability at the NFL Combine last month.

Teams will get their next close-up view Tuesday, when Winston will throw to some of his college teammates during Florida State's pro day in Tallahassee, Florida.

There seems to be no debate, however, over Winston's potential. He's a quarterback who completed 66 percent of his passes for nearly 8,000 yards and 65 touchdowns in two college seasons.

And Tampa Bay, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, absolutely needs a quarterback.

The Bucs, coming off a season in which they went 2-14 and ranked 30th in total offense, haven't had the first overall pick in the draft since 1987, when they took Vinny Testaverde. He had a long, successful career that didn't really take off until after the team gave up on him becoming the franchise QB they've never had.

Winston was 26-1 as a starter in college, leading Florida State to a national championship as a red-shirt freshman and helping the Seminoles earn a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoffs last season.

Setting the stage for the possible selection of Winston or Mariota, who also visited One Buc Place this month, Tampa Bay released incumbent starter Josh McCown with a year left on the contract he signed as a free agent in 2014.