Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gruden weighs in on “Showman Winston, “grinding” Bortles


TAMPA – Former Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was back at One Buc Place on Wednesday for the official announcement of his coming induction into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor, which will happen at halftime of the Bucs-Falcons Monday Night game at Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 18.

Gruden, who has not attempted to hide his bitterness over being fired by the Bucs following the 2008 season, even changed out his FFCA (Fired Football Coaches Association) hat for an old Bucs visor and proclaimed, “At heart, I’ll always be a Buccaneer.’’

Following the press conference, Gruden hung around to discuss a variety of football topics including the divergent career paths that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and Jaguar quarterbasck Blake Bortles now appear to be on.

Largely as a result of the “QB Camp’’ series he hosts as part of ESPN’s pre-NFL Draft coverage, Gruden’s reputation as something of a quarterback guru has grown exponentially since he was fired by the Bucs and joined ESPN’s Monday Might crew so it was interesting to hear what he had to say.

As you might expect, Gruden had nothing but effusive praise for Winston. He said he wished he could have had a quarterback like him when he was coaching. As for Bortles, he was actually a bit sympathetic toward his plight because he believes he’s as much a victim of circumstance as anything.

“He’s been in a situation where they’ve had a lot of turnover there,’’ Gruden said. “He’s had different systems there that he’s had to learn, and he’s been sacked and hit a lot, and his mechanics have slipped a little bit because of it. Perhaps his confidence has, too.

“I mean, he’s 11-34 in 45 starts, and you don’t get a lot of confidence until you win. So hopefully he gets it back. I’m sure he had a strong offseason, but he needs some success. He needs some success so he can get some of that positive momentum back.’’

Positive momentum isn’t a problem for Winston. His career has been on an upward trajectory ever since he was drafted first overall by the Bucs in 2015 and Gruden believes he’s on the brink of becoming not just one of the best quarterbacks in the games but one of its brightest stars

“When you study Winston, you realize what an athlete he is, how much offense he creates, what a gunslinger he is and how exciting a player he is,’’ Gruden said. “He’s a showman. And I Love that about him.

“I mean he can get up there and recognize the defense, he can communicate what he wants done and he has the talent to execute any play you call. It’s that combination that really excites me, and now he has an arsenal around him so it’s going to be a fun year for Tampa.’’

It could be a fun year for Jacksonville, too. Like Winston, Bortles has a pretty good arsenal around him that includes a strong stable of running backs. Even better, his team is finally committing to the running game in an effort to relieve him of some of the pressure he’s been under.

Still, the key to Bortles bouncing back, Gruden said, is for him to rid himself of the poor habits he’s fallen into mechanically over the past year or so. Even in doing that, though, it’s clear Gruden believes Bortles needs some help from the team around him.

“It’s been well-documented,’’ Gruden said of Bortles poor mechanics. “He dropped the ball down way too far (down toward his hip) last year (in his set-up). And I thought his release wasn’t as quick as it was. And a lot of that has to do perhaps with him taking a lot of hits.

“I don’t know how much practice he missed, but they didn’t run the ball very well and they were behind a lot. A lot of that adds up. So hopefully he can just keep grinding and have some success because he’s still a young quarterback with athleticism, and he has a lot of playing experience.’’

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