Saints' Winston exhibiting athleticism in return from injury

Referee Shawn Hochuli (83) talks to New Orleans Saints' Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton before an NFL football joint practice session with the Green Bay Packers Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (Morry Gash, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

METAIRIE, La. – The velocity with which Jameis Winston threw this week, and his form on a baseball-style slide during a scramble, generated talk of the New Orleans Saints quarterback’s background as a two-sport athlete in college.

Such displays of all-around athleticism are a welcome sight for the Saints as Winston works to come back from reconstructive surgery on his left knee last year, as well as from a sprained right foot earlier in training camp.

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“I can’t wait to step back on the field and compete some more,” Winston said Wednesday after the Saints’ last practice before their preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers on Friday night. “One thing I know is I will not take this opportunity for granted ever again.”

Saints coach Dennis Allen declined to say whether Winston would play against the Chargers. If he doesn’t, Winston’s scheduled start against Atlanta in New Orleans' regular-season opener on Sept. 11 would be his first live action since last Halloween, when his ACL was torn during a tackle by Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White.

Regardless of whether Winston must wait two more weeks to play, Allen asserted that his quarterback has “looked pretty good out there ... which has been really encouraging.”

Winston said his foot sprain during practice on Aug. 8 was “not like a major injury.” But he said it made more sense to rest than be on the field favoring his left foot while he’s also rehabilitating his left knee, on which he still wears a brace.

Once Winston returned to 11-on-11 drills this week, he tested his mobility with a scramble down the middle of the field, finishing with a baseball-style slide.

“We all kind of held our breath,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “He popped right back up. I think all those things are good for the team and good for our spirit.”

Winston said Saints quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry had been “killing me because I told him I’m working on sliding and I’m bringing back my baseball days.”

After the slide, Winston said, Curry playfully drew comparisons to Jackie Robinson.

“I was like, ‘Thank you,’” Winston said. “If I can slide and steal home like Jackie Robinson, I’m doing good.”

While Mathieu intercepted Winston in the back of the end zone during an 11-on-11 series at practice this week, the safety said he was impressed by a number of Winston’s throws. Winston's highlights included completions during a two-minute drill to first-round draft choice Chris Olave near the right sideline and veteran Jarvis Landry on the left side, the latter going for a touchdown.

“He’s got a mean out route,” Mathieu said of Winston. “It’s like real gas when he throws it. That’s probably from his baseball days.”

In addition to winning a Heisman Trophy and national championship as Florida State’s QB, Winston played two seasons for the Seminoles' baseball team. In 2014, he made 24 relief appearances, posting a team-high seven saves and 1.08 ERA while striking out 31 batters in 33.1 innings.

As a quarterback, Winston has a well-regarded ability to throw deep. The knock on him has been his mercurial decision-making, as well as unreliable accuracy on shorter passes.

The 28-year-old said he's made a point of “being more honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses,” and added that he has focused this offseason — with help from throwing coach John Beck — on shorter throws.

Winston said he’s trying to deliver balls to playmakers in spots where they can quickly transition to running after the catch.

Receiving targets including running back Alvin Kamara, receiver Michael Thomas, Olave, Landry and the small but speedy Deonte Harty are all “guys who can extend plays with the ball in their hands,” Winston noted.

Statistically, Winston’s most prolific season came in 2019 — his last with Tampa Bay — when he passed for 5,109 yards, the NFL high that year, and 33 TDs. But he also was intercepted a league-high 30 times. The following offseason, the Bucs replaced Winston with Tom Brady.

Winston responded by signing with New Orleans, where he sought to learn from then-coach Sean Payton and record-setting quarterback Drew Brees.

Last season, after Brees’ retirement, Winston won New Orleans’ starting job and said he was trying to focus more on making good decisions than gunning for big results. It showed in his 14 TDs to just three interceptions in his seven starts, during which New Orleans went 5-2.

Now he'll to try to build on that.

“I’m a different quarterback today than I was with my last game with the Saints,” Winston said. “I take a lot of pride in trying to, and preparing to, get better every single year.”


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