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Rookies Vic Beasley, Jameis Winston unfazed by expectations

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The respect is mutual between Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, the 2015 first overall draft pick, and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley, the eighth overall selection, as they prepare to meet again Sunday.

The two are familiar with each other, having played against each other once in college. Winston's Florida State Seminoles defeated Beasley's Clemson Tigers 51-14 in 2013 as Winston threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns while being sacked three times.

None of those sacks were by Beasley.

"I just didn't get to him," Beasley recalled. "I think I was close one time. He's a great player. If you let him sit back there and throw the ball, he'll pick you apart."

Winston missed playing against Beasley a second time due to a suspension. Still, Winston saw enough of Beasley on film to realize his talents as s pass-rusher.

"Vic is an amazing player," Winston said. "He definitely puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback. You've got to be in good rhythm and get the ball out on time or he'll get to you."

Speaking of pressure, both Winston and Beasley have faced their share of it while adjusting to the NFL. The expectations for any first-round draft pick are high, but particularly for a top 10 selection. Winston enters Sunday's game having completed 107 of 181 passes for 1,471 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. His first NFL pass attempt was intercepted and returned a touchdown, and he threw a pick-six in each of his first two home games. However, Winston has gone two straight games without a turnover, which might indicate he's settling into his role.

"I just take it day by day trying to get better every single day," Winston said. "I can't really focus on (being the top pick) now."

As for Beasley, his production hasn't been as good as anticipated, with two sacks and four quarterback hits through seven games. His frustration got the best of him last week when he picked up what could have been a costly 12-men-on-the-field penalty after engaging too long in some trash talk.

Beasley maintains a positive outlook despite his early struggles.

"There's an expectation, and production is the most obvious thing," Beasley said. "Yes, there are high expectations. But I'm not worried. Sacks and production, that will come. We're winning games. The defense is playing great. ... A lot of people want to see sacks, but we're winning games. And the defense is playing well."

Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, understands the added scrutiny that comes with being a top 10 pick. His rookie season didn't go according to plan, thanks in large part to injury. Now fully healthy, Matthews looks comfortable at his position and is playing well.

"I think you're expected to come in and be impactful real quickly," Matthews said. "That's why you get drafted in that spot; because they have faith that you're capable of doing it.

"I know Vic is going to do a good job. I was real happy we drafted him where he was. I'd tell Vic to keep doing what he's doing because he's doing a great job. He comes in every day, keeps his head down, and works hard. He's one of those guys you know you'll be able to count on to go out there and make plays on Sundays."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn offered his take on whether players such as Winston and Beasley put too much pressure on themselves to live up to the lofty expectations, particularly Winston at No. 1.

"Well, I think you better make sure the guy is a real competitor when you're put into that spot," Quinn said. "I know for sure that (Winston) is. I think it depends on the individual. I think when you're into that spot and you select someone (No. 1), you better make sure, 'Can this guy handle all the demands and pressure that go along with that?' You've got be really strong, not just have the physical traits, but you have to have the mental stuff, too. And, for sure, (Winston) does."

Quinn said Beasley has the same makeup.

"That's a big part of it: You go through (and) there's such a pressure on these guys to say, `OK, out in front and going for it,'" Quinn continued. "But that's the biggest thing for me: Do they have the mental toughness and capability to say, `OK, there's lots of arrows, at times, being thrown.' Both of those guys for sure do."

Should make for an interesting rookie matchup come Sunday.