TAMPA, Fla. — On his first day back at practice following a three-game suspension, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was asked how he’d handle possibly being the second-string quarterback behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“The most important thing is the success we are having,” said Winston. “I’m just happy to be back, man. I’m happy that I can be a part of that. I’m not watching from a distance. I can be here with my teammates.”
Coach Dirk Koetter hasn’t officially named a starter for Week 4 against the Chicago Bears, but a shortened week, along with the Bucs’ 2-1 start with Fitzpatrick, have led some to believe that they’ll continue to go with the 35-year-old signal-caller for at least another week.
Koetter said Tuesday that he isn’t divulging who his starter will be, even after meeting with both Winston and Fitzpatrick and informing them of the team’s plan.
Winston actually told general manager Jason Licht before his departure that he believed Fitzpatrick would excel. And he has, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games.
“This is what I expected,” Winston said. “Obviously, it’s a tough situation to say, but it’s a win-win situation, baby. [We’re] here balling hard. [We’re] winning. The community is behind us. I’m happy, everyone is happy, you guys are happy. As long as we [are] happy, [we’re] good.”
Winston was not permitted to practice at the team facility while suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in the wake of an NFL investigation into accusations he groped a female Uber driver in March 2016, but he conducted his own 2½-hour workouts every day with about 25 players. He watched all three of the games, sending congratulatory text messages to teammates.
“I think it’s exciting. I’m at home — sometimes you don’t wanna hear the people in your house, so [you’ve] got to get to a place by [yourself] because [you’re] all in it — but it’s exciting,” Winston said. “We’re having a lot of success, and I want that to continue, and I know it will.
“Me being back — nothing’s changed. I’m just happy that I can be a part of that. When we have a win, I can come off [the field] and dab guys up and celebrate with them. That’s the part that you miss — that team bonding — because you do this together. It’s tough going out there and getting wins.
“I’ve seen the beards. When a guy throws for 400 yards three games in a row, you’ve got to love that. And as a community, we’ve gotta get behind this team, because when we’re winning, when things are going good, we’ve gotta capitalize on that,” Winston said.
Winston was in the building at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday — even earlier than his typical 5:45 a.m. start time. He got a workout in and met with Koetter, who informed him and Fitzpatrick of the team’s plans. The rest of the team had the day off though, so Wednesday was the first time he’d seen his teammates.
“Jameis loves football. It was really painful for him to not be around the building,” said guard Ali Marpet, who greeted Winston with a big bear hug. “We are very happy he is back. This is where he thrives.”
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy came up to Winston in the locker room. The two smiled and hugged for several seconds.
Just a few feet away, defensive end Vinny Curry said, “The circle feels complete.”
Winston was full of energy and looked fit during the 30-minute portion of practice that was open to the media. Koetter said he handed his time away “like a pro.”
“Oh yeah, he came back prepared. That’s no big surprise. It was great to have him back,” Koetter said. “Jameis is a favorite of everyone around here. It was great to have his energy back in the building, to have his smile back in the building. I know he’s happy to be here and we’re happy to have him.”