The Jacksonville Jaguars are familiar with the trials and tribulations of having a rookie quarterback.
Last year, third-overall pick Blake Bortles was often confused and struggled behind a porous offensive line to the tune of 11 touchdowns and 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
2015 is Tampa Bay's turn, as they unofficially (officially) tanked 2014 to land the No. 1 overall pick and chose former Florida State Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston.
“I can speak for how we handled it," Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley explained when asked about dealing with the trials and tribulations of a rookie quarterback. "We had great faith and have great faith in Blake [Bortles]. I think we knew some of that was going to be part of the learning curve. It’s a different game. It’s a faster game. Some different looks and it requires great decision making in minimal time period. I know they have great faith in [Jameis Winston] and they trust him and they know sometimes these things can happen. The biggest thing is to learn from them and quickly recover from your mistakes and move on. That’s kind of what we went through. We saw the great games and we saw the tough games and the inconsistency. I think it will eventually even out. He’s talented now. He’s talented. You look at some of the throws he makes, but he had close to 300 yards throwing in the Carolina game and [in] the New Orleans game [he had] no picks, good decision making. You see the flashes similar to what we went through.”
Winston was supposed to be the most pro-ready quarterback since Andrew Luck, but through preseason and four regular season games he has looked rushed, confused and has been killing his team with mistakes.
"Jameis Winston, who was supposed to be pro-ready, is not playing at an NFL level at all," Tarkenton said in an interview Thursday on 620 WDAE in Tampa. "And he needs to get his act together."
The words of the Hall of Fame quarterback ring with bitterness, as Winston is a turnover machine, but he has done all the right things off the field.
He's just another in the long line of rookie quarterbacks that is being confused by some of the most complex defenses in football.
“I think Jameis has a lot of talent," Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "I think last week didn’t work out I’m sure like he wanted to, but he has a lot of talent. They’re putting the offense in his hands. He does checking and stuff like that. I know that they did some things last week that helped him once they got off track a little bit. I think they did some things that helped him get back on track. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Tampa will try to make things as easy as possible for their young quarterback with some quick throws. Unfortunately, their personnel doesn't really comply with that strategy. The Bucs have two great receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, but they are big, downfield threats without a lot of suddenness. Their offensive line hasn't proved to be good enough to hold blocks to take deep shots.
Still, the Jaguars are preparing for the underneath, quicker passing game on Sunday.
“I think the style of offense that they want to as far as they did some no-huddle and some stuff like that to help him out,” Babich explained.
The Bucs have more high-end players than the Jaguars do, but they've been embarrassed in half of their games, and most of their games going back to when Lovie Smith took over. Tampa is a team that's proven that if they get down early then Winston will be forced out of his comfort zone and things will snowball.
"You look at them, offensively, it starts off with [Doug] Martin, it seems to me – looking at him – he’s back to his form," Bradley said. "I know he had over 100 yards rushing [last week]. I think he is top 10 in rushing in the league, so it looks like he is back to his form. The two big receivers, different style receivers that we face and what they present. One game Vincent Jackson has been targeted multiple times. I think he had 10 receptions in that Carolina game, then [Mike] Evans was highly targeted in the Houston game, both over 100 yards for each of them. Yeah, you are right, on offense they have some talented personnel. It seems like they are the same conversations – the self-inflicted wounds. The turnovers, I think they’ve had 10. They’re minus-four overall and that’s the part I’m sure Lovie [Smith] is looking at and feels he needs to address. Defensively, when you look at them it’s what you expect. [They are] extremely well-coached, top 10 in total yards, second in passing yards, just very active, very athletic, fast. It starts with [Gerald] McCoy and the linebacking group. It’s a talented group, just the self-inflicted wounds, some of the same story.”
The game plan will be simple for the Jaguars. Get off to a quick start and disguise blitzes to force mistakes.
“I can’t give you anything," Babich said when asked about bringing pressure. "We’re looking forward to playing a really good game and we’ll try to be our best and roll on.”
Both teams have circled this game as a win. The Bucs haven't won at home since 2013 and the Jaguars need something good to happen after the last two weeks.
It's likely that Jameis Winston is going to be the most valuable player in this game, for either the Bucs or the Jaguars.