Jameis Winston's progress measured in 'money' decisions, not 'money' throws

TAMPA, Fla. -- What's the most impressive thing Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has seen from quarterback Jameis Winston in training camp?

It wasn't a big-time "money" throw -- in fact, it wasn't about the throw at all, which was a 4-yard touchdown pass thrown on the move to running back Andre Ellington. The pass itself wasn't great -- Ellington had to spin around to make the catch.

"See, it ain't always a money throw for me. It's a money decision -- that's what that position is all about," Leftwich said. "He had an opportunity to hold that ball and fit that ball somewhere else, but what the defense did and who they covered, that ball was supposed to go right there."

A week and a half into training camp and two days until the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Winston appears to be turning the corner in Bruce Arians' offense.

Keeping things simple has been a focus for Winston in this new offense, not just in terms of decision-making on the field or in fighting the urge to be "Superman" on every play, something Arians has emphasized.

"Quarterback is such a complex position because you have to know everyone's job [and] you have different things thrown at you, but I think the art to it is just really making things simple," Winston said.

One way Winston has kept it simple is by taking what the defense gives him, including throwing more checkdowns.

"It sounds so cliché like, 'Hey, I have to make the simple decision,' but sometimes checking that ball down is the simple decision," Winston said. "It's about moving the chains. It's about a completion here and a completion there. That's how you know the game really slows down, when you are just able to do that -- when that is just second nature."

Added Arians: "I think [checking it down is] one of his biggest areas of improvement. Instead of forcing it down the field, he's seeing 11-yard gains on checkdowns. Ten or 15 of those in a game -- that's a lot of yards. With the backs we have, we're going to break some tackles. .... The first time we were going live and he hit Rojo [Ronald Jones II] and Rojo went 60 [yards] on a checkdown, it's like, 'Oh this stuff works.' That's a great feeling for a quarterback."

Each day, Winston tries to cross something new off his personal checklist, which sets the tone for practice.

"One day, it's my first drop, it's my first step and my drop in the gun. One day, it might be on my movement to the right -- I want to get my hips open on throws to the left," Winston said. "I think that's why in our quarterback room, [quarterbacks] Coach [Clyde] Christensen does a great job of matching up our individual periods with the needs that we may see that we need on film, so we get to work on that every single day."

While Winston didn't speak to what his next few items are, the two-minute drill is an area that stands to improve. Toward the end of Monday's practice, he got the offense into scoring range, but was nearly picked off by Vernon Hargreaves on a pass intended for Breshad Perriman in the corner of the end zone.

Still, Arians was pleased with the effort.

"[He was] getting the ball out of his hands to the right guy on time ... accurately. He overall had a really good day other than a few plays down in the red zone," Arians said.

Winston's shaky start to camp, when he was throwing multiple interceptions daily against a no-holds-barred Todd Bowles defense, has given way to getting the ball out quicker, making big throws and having more sustained drives.

In other words, Arians' claim that Winston has been "right on schedule" is holding up.

"I feel like we as a team are getting better day by day, and those are the specific goals for training camp -- to grow as a team," Winston said. "When you grow as a team and you get comfortable with everybody being around you, that's when consistency shows up in every position."

He went 3-for-3 in a red zone period, finding Perriman and tight end O.J. Howard twice in the end zone. In the next period, he found Perriman working inside on a slant for another touchdown.

"It's still a work in progress. We're just continuing to grow and grow each day," Perriman said. "It definitely takes time, but I feel like [things] are going very good. We're not gonna do nothing but keep getting better, [and] right now, we're in a good place."

Added receiver Chris Godwin: "I think we're correcting some [earlier mistakes in camp], guys are coming along well, picking up the offense. ... It's a process. It's never gonna be perfect. Your progression is never gonna be linear -- there's gonna be ups and downs."

Some of those downs stem from Bowles' new scheme, something Winston is seeing for the first time. It is far more multiple than ones he practiced against in the past.

"We probably won't see a team disguise as well as Todd and them do all year," Leftwich said. "It's great for us to have those reps and those opportunities to see if we can get to the right spot."

Discerning which players are rushing the quarterback and which are dropping into coverage, plus defensive backs playing much more physically and far closer to the line scrimmage than they did previously, poses new challenges for the offense.

"That puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line to hold up longer because the receivers have to get open quicker," Winston said. "I think also that's a pressure thing. We know that when those DBs are sitting, it's probably some sort of pressure, so it just helps us with our awareness of the game, the way those DBs play. And it also allows us to try to take some chances down the field on 'em."

Bowles isn't telegraphing what elements of his playbook he's installing, so Winston is certainly getting his share of surprises in practice.

"He's going to come out here and he's gonna be ready to learn, ready to grow," Godwin said of Winston. "We're all holding each other accountable for our mistakes and kinda boosting each other up when we make good plays. And I think that's what it's gonna take for us to get where we need to go."