TAMPA, Fla. -- Bruce Arians, the self-proclaimed "Quarterback Whisperer," who has tutored the likes of Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck, faces his next big challenge in working with quarterback Jameis Winston as the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just last month, Bucs general manager Jason Licht announced Winston, 25, would return in 2019, meaning the club will pick up Winston's $20.9 million fifth-year option despite some regression during the earlier portion of 2018 -- mainly with turnovers -- and an off-the-field incident resulting in Winston's three-game suspension.
Arians, 66, will need to strike a balance between taking big shots downfield with his "no risk it, no biscuit" mentality and limiting Winston's mistakes.
Winston's 76 turnovers are tied for the most in the NFL since 2015, including 58 interceptions, which are tied for second most in the league in that span. Since Winston entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, Bucs opponents have scored 362 points off turnovers, second most in the league.
Former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter's offense was largely predicated on a strong vertical passing attack, and less on a ground game, which positioned Winston to take more gambles rather than going for easier completions.
Arians has built a strong rapport with his quarterbacks, coaching them on how to best protect the ball, and the results have showed. He helped Palmer go from throwing 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in their first season together in 2013 to 35 TDs and 11 INTs his next full season in 2015.
Manning's high interception numbers at the beginning of his career also dropped with each season he worked with Arians as his quarterbacks coach with the Indianapolis Colts from 1998 to 2000. Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie to 15 interceptions in both his second and third years, respectively, in the league.
The fact Arians already has a relationship with Winston, whom the coach affectionately calls "Jaboo" after years of Winston attending Arians' football camps in Birmingham, Alabama, can't be overstated.
The relationship between Winston and Koetter in 2017 when Winston was dealing with a shoulder injury was reported to have some friction. Sources also told ESPN there were times throughout their four years together when Winston didn't feel fully supported by his coach, who, when his job was on the line this season, opted to start Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of believing his franchise quarterback could work through his on-field struggles.
Winston needs to know he is believed in, and have someone he can trust to guide him in Year 5 -- not just on the field, but off it, too. Sources close to Winston say an off-field relationship with his coach is something the young quarterback desires and values. It's the sort of guiding role Winston had with former Bucs coach Lovie Smith, who met with Winston's family on multiple occasions, and something that never seemed to materialize with Koetter.
Also, Winston values the type of tough-love Arians provides. Arians' coaching philosophy is, "Coach 'em hard, hug 'em later," something coach Paul "Bear" Bryant taught him when Arians was the running backs coach at the University of Alabama from 1981 to 1982. And it's also a similar mantra to what Winston had at Florida State with Jimbo Fisher, who Winston has said "was harder on me than anybody else."
"I want to be able to be the person that is held accountable," Winston said back in 2017. "I'm already the quarterback -- the quarterback is already the one who gets scrutinized for most things, and even if [he] throws three picks, he played a good game. I want to be that person that gets yelled at in front of their teammates to make them feel better, just like, 'OK, our quarterback is getting yelled at, too.' I think that helps with guys."
Arians can help Winston out by re-infusing balance into the Bucs' offense. Over the past two years, despite Winston's issues with turnovers, Bucs quarterbacks have had the second-most passing attempts of any team in the league (1,230) and the eighth-fewest rushing attempts. The Bucs' 3.73 yards per rushing attempt is also the lowest in the NFL since 2016.
While Arians' high-flying passing game led the Cardinals to a 13-3 record in 2015, in 2016 he switched to a more balanced attack with the emergence of running back David Johnson. The Cardinals still utilized play-action and took their shots downfield, when warranted. Arians initiated the move not because of a change in philosophy, but because the talent was there to do so, suggesting he can adapt to the talent that's in front of him.
He'll be wise to do that in Tampa Bay, as well.
Can Arians turn Winston and the Bucs into a winner? The Bucs are 21-33 since 2015 in games Winston has started (.389). Blake Bortles is the only other non-rookie quarterback who started this season with a worse record in that span (.350).
Also, Arians can give Winston the freedom to improvise, something the fourth-year quarterback is already exceptional at doing with wide receiver Mike Evans. It means allowing him to capitalize on big-bodied targets such as tight end O.J. Howard on the perimeter. It means utilizing Winston on the move, throwing from outside the pocket. It also means allowing him to scramble to pick up first downs and, even more, trusting that he will protect his body and the football.
The challenge is in front of Arians now.