TAMPA, Fla. – Jameis Winston’s first order of business in training camp was apologizing to teammates.
Now, he’s appealing for continued support from unhappy fans who think he no longer deserves to be the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I understand the disappointment. I’m disappointed,” the fourth-year pro said Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since the NFL suspended him three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy by groping a female Uber driver the winter after his rookie season.
“I should never have put myself in that situation,” Winston added. “All I can do is grow and learn from that.”
That was the underlying theme of a 10-minute media session following the Bucs’ first practice. He declined to discuss specifics about the March 2016 incident in Scottsdale, Arizona, repeatedly saying he’s focused on being a good teammate and moving forward.
“That happened after my rookie year,” Winston said. “I’ve made a lot of positive changes since then.”
The 24-year-old, who’s thrown for 11,636 yards and 69 touchdowns in three pro seasons, will miss what figures to be three of Tampa Bay’s toughest games – at New Orleans on Sept. 9, followed by home dates against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will take over in Winston’s absence, with Ryan Griffin – a fifth-year pro who’s yet to take a snap in a regular-season game – moving into the No. 2 role.
“It’s disappointing that Jameis put himself in that position and put our team in that position,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “But at this point, it’s done and we have to deal with it.”
Fitzpatrick, 2-1 in three starts last season as a replacement for an injured Winston, practiced with the regulars Thursday.
Griffin worked with the second-stringers, while Winston took snaps with the first, second and third teams.
Koetter did not provide details about the incident that landed his starting quarterback in trouble. He also declined to talk about what Winston said to teammates on reporting day.
“I think everybody can appreciate that what’s said in there should be between Jameis and the team,” the coach said.
And while it won’t be ideal opening the season without the No. 1 quarterback, Koetter expressed confidence that others will step up against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers, who are all defending division champions.
The Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, are coming off a 5-11 finish.
“I think your team has a lot of leaders. Being a leader starts with being a leader of yourself. I talk to the guys about that often,” Koetter said.
“I think that’s one of Jameis’ strengths as a football player … But right now, where we’re standing with the three-game suspension, it’s time Jameis leads from the rear,” the coach added. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Winston, meanwhile, hopes fans will continue to support the Bucs as an organization, as well as him, personally.
Tampa Bay drafted him No. 1 overall despite questions about the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner’s off-the-field behavior in college.
A fellow student at Florida State said Winston raped her, but the quarterback was never charged. The university settled a Title IX lawsuit over its handling of the allegations with Winston’s accuser in January 2016 for $1.7 million.
Since joining the Bucs, Winston has started 45 of 48 games. He’s also made an impact off the field through numerous charitable endeavors.
He reiterated he plans to remain active in the Tampa Bay community, adding he “can’t let this diminish all the hard work that I’ve been doing.”
“I’ve made a lot of positive strides since I’ve been here. I have to continue to grow as a man, as a person, as a leader, as a father. I know I can’t put myself in situations like that,” Winston said.
The quarterback offered one more reason it’s imperative he correct his behavior around women – Winston’s month-old son, born one day after the NFL announced the suspension.
“So seeing things from a different perspective, and learning that I’m going to have to teach that man how to live his day-to-day life,” Winston said, “I really took it upon myself to be proactive and make sure I’m being a great example for him and my fiancee.”
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