First & Five: Winston, Alexander cornerstones of bright future for Tampa Bay Buccaneers


During the Bucs’ 23-20 overtime victory over the Falcons in Atlanta, we saw a glimpse into a brighter future for a franchise that has been largely tormented since winning its only Super Bowl title after the 2002 season. Two large parts of that bright future were the most important Bucs on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball: quarterback Jameis Winston and linebacker Kwon Alexander.

For those of you that don’t know, Alexander played with an incredibly heavy heart that afternoon: his younger brother had been murdered earlier that weekend near the family home in Alabama. All the fourth round rookie from LSU did was record 11 tackles, snare an interception and force then recover a fumble en route to winning the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

Nov 1, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) celebrates after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Winston calmly led the offense to multiple scoring drives, including the one that led to kicker Connor Barth’s game-winning 31 yard field goal in overtime. However, it was his pregame speech to the team for Alexander that shows that he is, without a doubt, now this team’s leader.

According to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times, this is what Winston said to the team: ‘“When our brother is down, another one of our brothers step up and rise!’’ Winston said. “Kwon Alexander come here.’’

Alexander removed his helmet and stepped forward. “We’ve got a brother in pain,” Winston said. “Pain guys! We’ve got a brother who is in pain. Are we our brother’s keeper? Are we our brother’s keeper? Depend on the man next to you! Let’s go out there and fight! Let’s go out there and win the battle! Let’s do it guys! Family on three.’’’

As I’ve said before, Winston is a leader of men, plain and simple. On Sunday, we saw that. Combine his play with that of Alexander on defense, and you see two men that will make an impact in red and pewter for many years to come. I can’t wait to see them play on Sunday against the Giants.

With that being said, here are my five points for this week.

1. This week, keep an eye on receivers Odell Beckham Jr. of the Giants and Mike Evans of the Bucs to help your fantasy team out.

Two receivers out of the loaded 2014 draft class will face off on Sunday for what should be the first of many meetings in their careers. Both of them are already stars and number one targets for their offenses. And if you happen to have both of them on your fantasy team (like myself), then you’re probably looking at a win this weekend.

The reason why you should start these receivers if you have them on your team is simple: they are going up against mediocre secondaries at best, and are some of the NFL’s best at their position. A touchdown reception for each of them is expected, and over 100 recieving yards for both of them is a likely possibility. So start them. Period.

2. CFB Player To Watch: Vernon Hargreaves III, Cornerback, Florida (vs. Vanderbilt, Saturday, 12 PM)

One of, if not the best, cornerbacks in college football this season, Hargreaves is a premier cover artist who has routinely shut down the opponent’s best receiver, as well create turnovers for a prolific Gators defense. Sounds like something a Bucs defense that prides itself on creating turnovers could use come next season.

Third year cornerback Johnthan Banks has one side of the field locked up for the future when healthy. However, veteran free agent additions Alterraun Verner, Tim Jennings and Mike Jenkins have been largely disappointing. Hargreaves would solve the cornerback woes that have plagued Lovie Smith’s defense, and give the Bucs one of the NFL’s best young duos of cornerbacks. Plus, he played high school football at nearby Wharton High School. Everybody loves a good homecoming, right?

3. Matchup to Watch: Bucs LT Donovan Smith vs Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

As the season has progressed, so has Smith in his role as Winston’s blindside protector. However, he will face a big challenge against Pierre-Paul, who will most likely make his season debut Sunday at Raymond James.

Even though he is returning from a horrific accident that occurred on the Fourth of July, Pierre-Paul is not to be underestimated. He is the Giants’ best pass rusher, and when healthy, one of the best in the league as well. Smith will have his hands full on Sunday. One of the keys to victory will be his ability to keep Winston off his back. If he can do that, then the Bucs have a solid chance to get to .500.

Aug 29, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter talks with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

4. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter was definitely the right hire this offseason.

When it came time for the Bucs to hire a new offensive coordinator this offseason, I wanted Marc Trestman. It seemed like it was the best choice at the time, and it would allow the team to take Marcus Mariota first overall to run Trestman’s offense. Boy, am I glad that didn’t happen.

No offense to Mariota (who is going through his own rookie ups and downs, and is set to return after spraining his MCL two weeks ago), but the hiring of Koetter and subsequent drafting of Winston was the right call. The pairing has revitalized a dormant fanbase, and has made the Bucs entertaining to watch each week. Last season was so hard to watch because there was no energy to the team. Well, this team has that missing energy.

Koetter has had some injuries to work through (receivers Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy, Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins have all missed time), and the offensive line has been up and down so far, but the offense has been much better than last year’s disastrous campaign. With Koetter and Winston in place, the offense has nothing to do but improve as this season progresses.

5. Weekly Winston Watch: Another outstanding week for the 2015 No.1 overall pick.

Although he didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers during Sunday’s win, Winston led the team to their third victory of the season Sunday. In case you aren’t keeping count at home, that’s more than Josh McCown and Mike Glennon had last season.

As said at the beginning of the article, Winston is a cornerstone for what should be a bright future here in Tampa Bay. There will be some bumpy roads ahead. But as long as he continues to improve and mature at the rate he has so far this season, then that future will look even brighter as each week passes.