Jameis Winston responded to all the lingering questions with some bold answers.
According to Winston, the character concerns that dogged him at Florida State are history. The comparisons to Johnny Manziel are irrelevant. The supposed throwing shoulder injury is a non-issue. And anyone who thinks the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner can’t be successful in the NFL is sorely mistaken.
Now the league’s decision-makers must determine whether they believe the charismatic Florida State quarterback can pull it off.
“What I do tell them is, `I have to earn your trust,'” Winston said. “I can’t talk about situations or anything like that in the past but what I can do is prove to them and let you watch me grow into being the face of your franchise.”
His arrival had been one of the most anticipated events all week in Indianapolis, especially after the scheduled Thursday appearance was pushed to Friday because of a longer-than-expected medical exam.
Winston made sure it was worth the wait.
After strutting to the podium, he flashed his big smile and started by acknowledging he’d made mistakes and intended to clean things up.
Winston talked about visiting children in Tallahassee, Florida, and the influence of his 7-year-old brother, calling them his inspiration to escape the tinge of trouble. He explained how he planned to win Super Bowls like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, downplaying the battle with 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota to go No. 1 in April’s draft.
The biggest surprise came less than two hours after ESPN reported that doctors at the combine were conducting additional tests on Winston’s throwing shoulder. He said he would throw during Saturday’s workout, shrugging off any concerns.
“I had the MRI, just like everybody else. I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old and the shoulder’s been fine,” Winston said. “I’ve got the same shoulder I done had the last two years at Florida State.”
Winston even joked his baseball career – he played for the Seminoles – could have caused the injury.
His quarterback tutor, George Whitfield, called the report a surprise and said Winston had completed a 90-minute throwing session Tuesday at the University of Michigan without a problem. Tampa Bay, which has the No. 1 pick in April, was one of the teams seeking answers, Whitfield said.
Two years ago, Utah defensive lineman Stat Lotulelei came to Indy projected as the No. 1 overall pick. That’s when doctors found a potentially dangerous heart condition. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Both were still first-round picks.
“Every year there are, two or three players who are found to have a condition they never knew existed and some have been life-threatening,” said Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian, now an analyst with ESPN. “My suspicion is it (Winston’s test) is fairly normal, they usually are. The test is usually done as a precaution.”
Even if Winston does get a clean bill of health, the other questions aren’t likely to subside.
Despite going 27-1 and winning a national championship at Florida State, his image was tainted by allegations of sexual assault, stealing food from a grocery store and a soda from a fast-food restaurant, carrying a pellet gun near campus, later firing it near his apartment, and jumping onto a table and shouting a vulgar phrase.
Some have even questioned whether Winston is out of shape.
“A lot of people thought I was fat,” a trimmer-looking Winston said. “But I’m here, I’m proving everybody wrong. I look good and I know it.”
What the Buccaneers must determine is how the brash-talking Winston will react to the infusion of millions of dollars and the bright spotlight that comes with being an NFL quarterback.
Those who know Winston, such as Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Seminoles center Cameron Erving, believe Winston is misunderstood.
“He’s a really good guy,” Erving said. “Anybody who is around the guy at any point in time, you just know he loves to have fun. He loves doing what he does. A lot of people think he’s a bad guy, he’s a troubled character, but that’s not an issue for him. He’s a great guy.”
Winston is engaging and entertaining, too, as he proved at the podium.
But he wants to show teams that he can be more than just a reliable franchise quarterback. He’s trying to show everyone he can be a star, on and off the field.
“Of course I want to make a first impression because impressions last a long time,” Winston said. “I’m a young man and I’m going to the next level to take a grown man’s position. That’s important to me. Football is my passion. I’ve been doing this since I was young, and I know the responsibilities that I have to take upon me when I’m going to be the face of someone’s franchise.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press