Jameis Winston 'even hungrier' as he embraces second chance with Saints

Jameis Winston totaled just 11 pass attempts last season as he sat behind Drew Brees and Taysom Hill, but he is working hard to become the Saints' starting QB in 2021. Dan Anderson/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

METAIRIE, La. -- Jameis Winston is well aware of the narrative that surrounds him these days.

In fact, he’s embracing it as he strives to become a starting quarterback again with the New Orleans Saints.

“I went from being the No. 1 draft pick to (having) everybody laugh at me,” Winston proclaimed, tackling the elephant on the field as he addressed a group of kids at former Florida State teammate Kenny Shaw’s youth camp in April.

“But guess what?” Winston continued. “I’m about that business. I’m outworking everybody at my position. … I’m doing things every single day, committing to the dream.”

Winston, who turned 27 in January, isn’t just talking the talk. Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to swap him out for Tom Brady last spring, Winston has been committed to flipping the script.

He took a backup job with the Saints last year so he could get a “Harvard education in quarterback school” under Drew Brees, Sean Payton and the rest of New Orleans’ loaded offensive coaching staff.

And he has spent this offseason traveling the country to work with trainers like Brees’ longtime mentor Todd Durkin and Jay Glazer to “be challenged on new levels.”

“I was tremendously impressed by his humility and his mindset,” said Durkin, who had never met Winston until he reached out. “He wanted to know, what does it take to be great? And he immersed himself.”

Winston has also placed an emphasis on working with many teammates this offseason. Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith said Winston paid for his flight to Los Angeles and invited Smith to stay with him and his family.

“One year not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the [helm] and lead a team,” Winston said as he prepares to compete with Taysom Hill to become Brees’ successor. “It’s all about being able to be humble and keep your eyes on the prize. I’m moving forward in everything that I do. I have to get better every single year, whether it’s a great year or a not-so-good year.”

Winston has consistently shown more humility than bitterness since the Buccaneers let his contract expire after a wild 2019 season, in which he led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards but also became the first player in league history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season.

Winston told Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche on their “Huddle and Flow” podcast: “I was angrier at myself for basically putting myself in this situation. Because I know that I can play quarterback at a high level, and I just felt like last season was such an anomaly.”

That humility and mindset aren’t new, however.

Longtime trainer and friend Otis Leverette, a former NFL defensive end who has worked with Winston since he was 14 years old in his home state of Alabama, said he has always told people Winston worked with a “blue-collar swagger” even when he was a top recruit in high school and Heisman Trophy winner in college.

“Naturally, just from a natural growth perspective, you would hope to see expansion in any human being as they age. So there’s been a certain maturation process mentally that he’s gone through,” Leverette said. “But to be very honest with you, Jameis Winston is pretty much who he’s always been. I don’t want to sell to the world like he’s just revamped himself, where he was this synthetic human being up until last year when he got humble.

“You’re just seeing a more refined, rational version, like that aged wine. But it wasn’t like all of a sudden he had this epiphany and became a real human being last week.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed is Winston’s love and passion for football.

That’s what Leverette said drove Winston most when he was without a team for a few months. And that’s what Winston’s teammates and coaches have mentioned most about him over the past year.

“The guys loves football. He’s really a football junkie,” said Brees, who said Winston constantly picked his brain. “I could not have been more impressed with Jameis, honestly. I think everybody in the locker room admired his love and passion for the game and the way he worked at it.”

Winston said the No. 1 thing he learned from Brees is “making the right decision” and not trying to force things that aren’t there. As he told Trotter and Wyche, he never wanted to be deemed a “game manager.” But he appreciates there is a “time and place” for trying to “light the scoreboard up” at this point.

Winston got emotional earlier this year when he talked about how much it meant for him to build that relationship with Brees after admiring him for so long. And Durkin said Winston told him that he relished having Brees as a mentor since he rarely had that experience in Tampa.

Durkin also trains former Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. And he said McCoy teased Winston, saying, “I was trying to get you out here for years, then you finally come out when Drew tells you to.”

Durkin said he introduced Winston to some Pilates techniques, core-muscle exercises and backside-shoulder stability exercises. At Glazer’s Unbreakable Performance Center, Winston did some boxing exercises centered around getting more explosive in his hips and stronger in his core.

Winston has also continued to work with throwing coaches John Beck and Adam Dedeaux from the 3DQB organization led by another of Brees’ longtime mentors, Tom House.

Winston’s maturation process has also included a number of life changes, big and small, over the past two years. He got married to his longtime girlfriend and they had their second child earlier this year. He had LASIK surgery to improve his eyesight and revamped his diet and exercise routine to noticeably slim down.

“One thing me and Jameis both believe in,” Leverette said, “you can sit in your own little wheelhouse, your own little area of the world and think, ‘Man, no one’s outworking us and we’re the hardest workers in the world and we’re doing everything right.’ Or you can get out there and challenge.

“Always being honest with ourselves, dissecting ourselves, putting ourselves on the table and doing that autopsy. Continue to evolve.”