Gerald McCoy says Bucs are now Jameis Winston's team

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take the field for their first training camp practice Thursday morning, quarterback Jameis Winston will take on a new role as face of the franchise, replacing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

"Me and Jameis had a private conversation about what he feels this team needs me to be as a leader," McCoy said Wednesday just after veterans reported.

"He's an intelligent guy," McCoy said of Winston. "Young or not, [he's] very mature ... very intelligent. He sits back, he watches and analyzes and he [saw] something that I could do to help this team be better. It's not hard to do. It's just a matter of me doing it."

Although McCoy's role within the team is changing, the 28-year-old said he's ready to embrace it.

"You guys are used to seeing me do things a certain way," McCoy said. "That's going to change because the face of the franchise came to me and said, 'Hey, listen. If we're going to win, we need you to do this, OK?' Our quarterback said this is what he needs, so this is what I'm going to do."

"[I'm] passing the torch. Ronde [Barber] gave me the torch. I didn't ask him for it. He passed it to me. So, 'Here you go, Jameis. Go take us to the Super Bowl.'"
Gerald McCoy

McCoy wouldn't reveal the exact details of the conversation, but the four-time Pro Bowler hinted that he was moving away from the spotlight.

"[I'm] passing the torch. Ronde [Barber] gave me the torch. I didn't ask him for it. He passed it to me. So, 'Here you go, Jameis. Go take us to the Super Bowl.'"

There was no grand entrance to camp for McCoy on Wednesday -- no bathrobe or pajama pants like in past years, and the vibrant red streak of hair he sported all last season is gone.

The transition from McCoy to Winston over the past year has had a few hiccups. Just before the Thursday night game in Week 15 last year, a fan captured video of Bucs players huddled up around Winston, while McCoy was noticeably absent. Instead, he was walking around the outside of the huddle with no helmet, far removed from teammates, appearing detached and indifferent.

McCoy denied Wednesday that there was any rift.

"I love Jameis, man," he said. "The day after he got drafted, I went to both his parents and told them, 'I'm going to take care of him. Don't worry about him. When you get on that plane and go home, I got him.' I love him, man. He's like my brother."

Winston has immersed himself in the Tampa Bay community. He has participated in diabetes walks and kickball games in the park designed to strengthen community relations with law enforcement officers, and he has visited survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and served as a staff member for many of his teammates' camps this summer.

By showing up at events, he has filled the city's need for a star quarterback.

"When they show commercials of the Bucs, they're not showing Gerald -- they're showing Jameis," McCoy said. "That's for a reason, and I'm happy about that because if your quarterback is the face of your franchise, usually that tags to winning, or going in a positive direction. I'm excited about it."

Winston also lost 20 pounds this offseason in an attempt to get stronger and healthier. While McCoy took notice of the weight loss, that wasn't what ultimately won over his support as a teammate, and neither was his 26-1 record as a starter in college. Instead, it was Winston's authenticity.

"He's Jameis. He's him. He [doesn't] care if I'm Gerald, if you're Vincent Jackson, if you're one of the Glazers [the Bucs owners], if you're Mr. Licht, he doesn't care. He's going to be Jameis," McCoy said. "For a guy to come in and regardless of what people say to him, how people feel about him, he's going to be himself -- you can't do anything but respect that."