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Jameis Winston treats mini-camp as his coming-out party

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TAMPA

Player by player, he shook their hands. Teammate by teammate, he welcomed them to camp.

As simple as that, the Tampa Bay Bucs came closer to being Jameis Winston’s football team.

He is in charge now. That should have been obvious as he greeted his teammates as they filed off of the bus at the hotel for the start of the Bucs’ orientation. He was like a politician running for office, only his promises were about touchdowns and victories. Line up with me, he was saying. Join my party.

No one told Jameis Winston to do this. This was him, a giddy football prospect unleashed. This is his team, and his field, and his future.

It was the same Friday, when Winston took the field to try to dispel all the doubts and questions about him. He took his first steps onto the field Friday as if he was beginning a journey. In a way, he was.

The cameras lined the field as Winston went through his first practice. You could see other players, but your eyes kept going back to him. From his first handoff to his last pass, this was his show.

Will this be the start of something big?

Goodness, isn’t it about time someone was?

Winston, the overall No. 1 selection in the recent draft by the Bucs, looks the part. Say that for him. He looked tall and strong, a sleeve on his right arm, an orange jersey with the No.3 across his chest. This is toe-in-the-pool time, a time to try on the field, to adjust to the voices of the coaches, to get to know his teammates.

He was up until 1 in the morning reading his playbook. He met the bus of his teammates as it pulled into the lot. He grinned, as if he had been too long away from this game and what it means to him.

“”I was happy to be on the football field,” Winston said. “It’s my passion. I love the game so much. It’s why I work so hard at it. That’s why football is my sanctuary. I always wanted to be a pro football quarterback.”

And now he was. There was one pass that Winston threw that would make you dream. He dropped back, and he threw long down the left sideline to fellow draftee Kenny Bell. Bell caught the ball and ran downfield.

How many of those are in his future?

Might he throw for 530 touchdowns, the way Peyton Manning has? Might he win four Super Bowls, like Tom Brady? Might he lead the team from behind time after time, the way Joe Montana did?

On a sunny Friday afternoon, you wondered.

It’s funny. During the draft, a quarterback cannot escape comparisons to the busts. JaMarcus Russell. David Carr. Tim Couch. But when he is in action, those comparisons sound wrong. It is easier to compare him to the greats, and to wonder if the Bucs finally have one.

“I thought he had a typical first day,” said coach Lovie Smith. “You have to have a first day. There were some balls he would like to have back. I saw a lot of good things that he did today.

“He can throw the football. It wasn’t a perfect pass every time he threw the ball, but he was getting used to throwing to our receivers.”

If there was anything to be impressed with, it was the way Winston took charge of his team. At one point, as he was warming up, fellow rookie Kwon Alexander jogged past. Winston spun and instead threw him the ball. They both laughed.

Then there are his two rookie linemen. Both loved what they saw in Winston.

“I think it shows he’s a team player,” guard Ali Marpet said. “He’s a likable guy. A good teammate. I thought it was awesome (when he met the bus).”

“Jameis is Jameis,” said tackle Donovan Smith. “He makes light of every situation. He makes you comfortable. As a quarterback, that’s his job. He’s doing a hell of a job already.”

Turning this franchise around will take a hell of job, of course. The Bucs were 2-14, and history tells us that growing pains are expected. But Winston’s grin made you want to believe that was possible.

“I’m just happy,” Winston said. “I’m like a 6-year-old kid. I’m not looking to the future. I just want to get better day by day. If we can do that, the sky is the limit.”

Winston talked quickly, as if the words could not come out fast enough. He kept smiling. He kept talking about how he loved this sport.

For Winston, it was a good day.

For the Bucs, it was a memorable one.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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