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Jameis Winston's remarkable football recall

TAMPA -- Let's get into the mind of Jameis Winston.

While others his age were raised on SpongeBob SquarePants or ventured around Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Jameis stared at a television set trying to decipher the difference between man coverage and Cover 4. He'd watch the steps cornerbacks made in press or off coverage. Winston's teeter-totter days were spent on a football field trying to avoid tacklers.

And all that studying is paying off.

Before drafting him, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put Winston to a test. They put a handful of detailed NFL plays in front of him and went into details on the execution of those plays. Each play had seven or eight points of complex study. Winston watched the presentation with great focus.

He didn't take notes.

After the session, he was taken around the Bucs offices to visit and meet with other people in the organization. After a couple of hours, Winston returned to the presentation room and the coaches asked him to explain the plays as best he could remember.

Point by point, Winston repeated every detail of those plays -- in order. His grade was 100 percent. He'd cracked the code.

"Well, ever since I was six, I had a little notebook with coverages and notes on the mental aspect of a game, what it meant to be a leader and what type of attitude you had to have," Winston told me earlier this week. "When I was young, I always wanted to be great at football."

Even at six, he understood the troubles of being a student of the game through the television. He didn't have DVR. NFL GamePass wasn't around. He had no access of coaches' All-22 view of the entire field. At age six, his mind was a quarterback trapped in the pocket with a limited view of the field.

"When I watched games, I watched the coverages," Winston said. "I watched the decision the quarterback makes based on coverage. But when I watched television, it was tough because I couldn't see the safeties sometimes."

While these stories might sound like fantasy, understand the reality of being Jameis Winston. Off the field, he's still growing and maturing. But his mind is mature beyond his years.

He admits he has a photographic memory. Thanks to his football experiences, his recall puts everything in the coaches' All-22 perspective. Who needs virtual reality when it's your daily reality. "I learn in different ways. If I can visualize what's going on and see what's happening, I can go out there and do it out there on the field."

"He's sharp," Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "Some guys can be really smart, but he can see it on the field, it gets to his brain and it triggers to his release fast. He sees the field well. Some guys can be really smart but they don't see the field very good. He does see the field."

But having great recall doesn't mean he's always going to be great. He opened his career with three incompletions, and he added another in the preseason opener against Minnesota. He threw multiple interceptions to open the training camp for the Bucs.

Lovie Smith isn't worried. He knows Winston is a rookie. For him and Koetter, a bigger point of emphasis is on not trying to make every play.

"He's extremely daring. He has no fear, which is good and bad," Koetter said. "We're not trying to coach that fear into him. We also know that bad decisions are a fast way to not be successful in the NFL."

That's what Smith likes about playing him in the preseason. Winston has a chance to work though his mistakes and learn. As a football student, Winston understands the damage that turnovers do. So does Koetter, who had to call plays to minimize Winston's gun-slinging mentality.

"The fact we can go out [in the preseason] and let Jameis play is good," Koetter said. "He can see what the results are going to be, both good and bad. The games don't count until we start playing the Titans. We have some ideas [about] what we are going to do, but I can't tell you what they are."

Winston may have been ahead of his time when he was six, but he wasn't a rookie even then. His father pushed him to play football, so Winston had put on the pads when he was only four. Almost 20 years later, he's again in the role of the relative youngster, trying to play at a level that will keep up with his mind.