Coming Off Historic Performance, Jameis Winston Excelling In Rookie Season

Intro: Sunday will mark the second time Jameis Winston has set foot inside of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2015. How has Winston evolved since the NFL Combine back in February?

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INDIANAPOLIS – The last time Jameis Winston was in Lucas Oil Stadium, he stood in front of hundreds of media members forced to answer constant questions about his character.

With a wry smile, Winston stood tall, declaring to the entire NFL world that the team who drafted him was getting their future under center.

'I'm out here to win games, be the face of someone's franchise," Winston said in February at the NFL Combine.

"I plan on winning the Super Bowl the next year, so it's going to be Jameis versus Peyton Manning, Jameis versus Tom Brady. I want to be viewed as that. I want my name to stay relevant for the next 15-20 years of my career."

Winston has backed up the bold proclamation with a rookie season that is 10 games old and sees the No. 1 pick leading a potential playoff team, while putting up very non-rookie numbers.

Since Week Five, Winston has thrown an interception in just one of his past six games.

He tossed an NFL-rookie record five touchdowns and no interception in last week's 45-17 trouncing of the Philadelphia Eagles. The 45 points were the most ever in a road game by the Bucs.

Count Chuck Pagano a believer in Winston.

"There's a reason why he was the No. 1 overall pick," Pagano said earlier this week. "(He) plays with great confidence. We know the skillset. He's got all the intangibles. That team believe in him. He can make all the throws. He can extend plays. He's doing a lot of things really well.

"He's big and strong and courageous and tough as damn nails. He'll stand in there and keep his eyes down field. He'll take hits. If he's got to lay it on the line to get the ball across the goal line to win a game, he'll do whatever he has to do. He's playing really good."

An aspect of the Bucs offense that has really helped Winston in his development is the league's second-ranked rushing attack (142.2 rushing yards per game).

Last week against the Eagles, Tampa flourished using a two-back (Doug Martin and Charles Sims), six offensive linemen set.

With Winston calling the shots and a committed/productive ground game, the Bucs don't need to answer any questions with words, like they had to in February.

And it starts with the rookie under center.

"(Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's) done a great job in a short period of time of bringing (Winston) along and getting him to where he's at right now," Pagano says.

"It's not easy, especially with the offseason being the way it is, you have limited amount of time with your kids. You take a rookie quarterback and he's going to start day one, it's hard. Those guys have done a tremendous job with that guy."

With Winston protecting the football at an exceptional rate, the Bucs are 4-2 in their last six games and at 5-5, sit just one game out of a Wild Card berth. Tampa hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.

Despite all the questioning and dissection of Winston throughout the draft process, the Bucs hardly wavered from their assessment in the Florida State product.

They are reaping the benefits.

"Jameis is a football junkie as far as his preparation," Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said.

"I've seen him really grow into a leadership role. Everything you want a good quarterback to do, a franchise quarterback to do, we've seen improvements from the time he got here."

A very upbeat Wednesday afternoon practice.

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