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This time, can the Bucs develop a QB?

in Apolitical/Sports/Top Headlines by

They have been here before.

They have smiled the same smiles, and nodded the same nods, and used the same adjectives. They have thought about the future in the same way. They have dared the same dreams.

Now, it is Jameis Winston who is the darling of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Once, it was Doug Williams. Then Steve Young. And Vinny Testaverde. And Trent Dilfer. And Josh Freeman.

This time, can the Bucs get it right?

Winston is young, even for a rookie. He is immature. He will be surrounded by a lot of ordinary. He is coming off a season when he didn’t take enough care of the ball. He has a tendency to force things. He’s created his own distractions a few times.

So how do you get a guy over a speed bump and into excellence?

Based on potential, Winston should be a fine player. There are those who will tell you his grades were the highest for a quarterback since Andrew Luck. He has played in a pro-style offense. He throws a nice fastball.  He should be closer to ready than anyone else in his draft class.

But this team has seen potential die before.

If you’re counting, this is the sixth time that the Bucs have taken a flier on greatness, and still, the Hall of Fame hasn’t called. The Bucs are still waiting for their first complete quarterback, for their first star at the position. Perhaps, through viewing the other five, you will get a glimpse of where the team went wrong.

(Yes, you can blame the quarterback if you want, and in the end, it was their fault for not being good enough. But the team shares responsibility, too. It’s their job to get the potential out of him.)

Pass No. 1: Williams.

The Bucs believed that Williams should have gone long before the 17th pick. Maybe he should have. He was tough, and his team believed in him, and despite a low completion percentage, Williams gave Tampa Bay some pretty good seasons. There are a lot of Williams qualities you would like to see Winston emulate.

But the Bucs didn’t get it right with Williams, either. They were never a top 10 offense while he was here, and Williams never completed more than 53 percent of his passes. Part of the reason, frankly, is that Williams’ receivers – aside from tight end Jimmie Giles – weren’t very good. As a rookie, when Williams won only four games, his receivers were Morris Owens (32 catches) and J.K. McKay (9).

Pass No. 2: Young.

Yes, Young is in the Hall of Fame. No, his stay in Tampa Bay didn’t have a thing to do with it.

Young spent two seasons here after being the No. 1 pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft, and the team won four games (Young was 3-16). Granted, Young would benefit from playing for coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco, but he never really had a chance here. In 1985, his receivers were Kevin House (44 catches) and Gerald Carter (40), guys you didn’t look for in the Pro Bowl. His offensive coordinator was the forgettable Jimmy Raye.

Pass No. 3: Testaverde

Like Winston, Testaverde was the overall No. 1 pick and a Heisman Trophy winner. But the Bucs never surrounded him with a lot, to be honest. He played for Ray Perkins, a stubborn coach who seemed to believe he was smart, and in the end, everyone’s time was wasted.

Testaverde didn’t win a game as a rookie in four starts. Carter caught 38 passes that year and Mark Carrier only 26.

Quickly, the Bucs established that they didn’t trust Testaverde, who never won more than six games for them. After that first season, when he got only four starts, Testaverde was sacked more than 30 times each season. Testaverde had only one offensive teammate make the Pro Bowl: Carrier in 1989.

Pass No. 4: Dilfer.

Dilfer, the sixth pick of the 1994 draft, simply wasn’t very good. Still, he won more games than other Bucs’ quarterbacks, largely because he was playing with the finest defense in team history.

But Dilfer and Sam Wyche, his first head coach, clashed often. They didn’t get off on the right foot, losing both games his rookie year, and it never got much better.

Dilfer never had much in the way of receivers, starting out with Courtney Hawkins and Charles Wilson, and in his second year, progressing directly to Alvin Harper. Things calmed down once Tony Dungy became his coach, and Dilfer made the ’97 Pro Bowl. But by the time he left, no one seemed sorry to see him go.

Pass No. 5: Freeman.

The Bucs traded up to get Freeman with the 17th pick of the 2010 draft, and coach Raheem Morris acted as if he had discovered gold. But as careful as the Bucs tried to be, they completely botched the handling of Freeman.

Start with an off-season quarterback battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown, although neither of them could play. Throw in firing his first offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, before a game was played. Consider not adding free agents. Consider a wide receiving corps of Antonio Bryant, who ran what patterns he wanted, and Michael Clayton, who caught the ball when he wanted.

Perhaps it was the lessons learned under Morris, and perhaps it was his reaction to the stern Greg Schiano, but Freeman also developed awful habits about when to show up for meetings. Like every other hopeful since Williams, fans were not heartbroken when he left.

Pass No, 6: Winston.

The potential is there. But is the help? Can the drafting of two offensive linemen help solidify that. Can the hiring of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter help the team figure out a way to the end zone? Can it finally develop a running game?

Look, there is hope here. Winston is more accurate than Williams. He is less scattered than Young was then. He is smarter than Testaverde. He is a better athlete than Dilfer. He cares more about the game than Freeman.

Yeah, he has a chance. But Winston has to be good, and as an organization, the Bucs have to be good.

Together, they have to be smart. Together, they have to find the end zone.

We’ll see.

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 [email protected]

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