PHOENIX (AP) — Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith wouldn’t come right out and say it. He sure gave every indication that the Buccaneers were ready to make Jameis Winston the No. 1 pick in next month’s NFL draft, though.
Not that that’s any big surprise. The Bucs have shown signs all along that the Florida State quarterback would be their choice.
Smith, speaking when NFC coaches met the media at the league meetings Wednesday, said Winston and his off-the-field issues have been researched thoroughly. The coach said he is satisfied with the results.
“You have to look a guy in the eye and feel comfortable with the answers that you’re getting,” Smith said. “and I feel comfortable with them.”
Smith said Winston knows he has made some bad decisions.
“He’s admitted the mistakes that he’s made,” the coach said. “I’m one that believes in second chances, especially young people. You can’t indict young people for some stupid things that they do early on. We all clean up.”
Winston has been at the center of several incidents, from stealing crab legs from a grocery store to investigation of an alleged sexual assault (no charges were filed). He was seen jumping on a table in the campus student union and a screaming a sexually charged obscenity.
“Jameis would be the first guy to tell you that he has made some of those same mistakes over and over again,” Smith said. “My experience has shown me that young people do make mistakes and you have to do your research to see if that’s a pattern that will continue, or a situation where you think a young man is ready to mature and not make those same decisions.”
Smith said the Buccaneers “feel like he’s in a position where he’s made some mistakes, and made a few after that, but we think that is behind him. That’s why we feel comfortable with him.”
Looking to shore up concerns about his character, Winston sought and received a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We were incredibly clear about our expectations of anyone who enters the NFL or is in the NFL,” Goodell said at his news conference Wednesday, “what we expect of anyone as men.”
The commissioner said he made sure Winston had full insight into the league’s personal conduct policy.
“Our conversations were extremely candid,” Goodell said.
Smith threw in a glowing reference to Marcus Mariota, too.
Someone asked the differences in the two quarterbacks.
“I ain’t telling you all my secrets,” Smith said.
One of them seemed pretty much out of the bag.
CUTLER’S CONFIDENCE: New coach John Fox has a reclamation project, restoring the self-belief, and in doing so the performance of quarterback Jay Cutler.
“I think maybe he got to the point where he lacked confidence a year ago,” Fox said. “To build that back up, it’s going to take time, daily. It takes trust, like any relationship.”
Fox said Cutler enters offseason workouts atop the team’s depth chart.
The coach wouldn’t comment on Cutler’s play last season.
“I don’t want to be critical of last year, I wasn’t here,” Fox said. “I don’t know what happened; I had my own problems (in Denver). But unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence.”
Fox said he would watch Cutler closely on the field and look at all the practice tape. There are steps that can be taken to help Cutler succeed.
“Football-wise, there are things you can do in coaching to minimize some of the exposure,” Fox said. “Playing defense, playing complementary football is going to be something that helps.”
Fox likens Cutler’s situation to that of Tony Romo.
“‘I know Tony personally. He’s a tremendous competitor,” Fox said. “I thought he had one of his better seasons a year ago with that same kind of buildup. With success comes confidence.”
‘AIN’T SAYING JACK’ ABOUT AP’: Arizona coach Bruce Arians has a knack for making things interesting, even when he’s not really saying anything.
A couple of reporters made an attempt to get the reigning NFL Coach of the Year to comment on the talk that Adrian Peterson wants to come to the Cardinals and whether the team is interested. They didn’t get far.
““You trying to get me fined? That’s tampering, dude,” Arians said. “I can’t talk about another player. I ain’t saying jack about Adrian Peterson.”
The Cardinals need a big running back, and Arizona reportedly is one of Peterson’s preferable destinations.
Arizona, though, would be giving up at least a draft pick or two and committing a ton of money to a 30-year-old running back, even if he is named Adrian Peterson.
Arizona’s running game was the worst in the NFL last season. To help, the Cardinals also signed free-agent guard Mike Iupati to line up alongside mammoth tackle Jared Veldheer on the left side. Now they need a big back behind them.
A much cheaper route than acquiring Peterson would be to get one in the draft.
“‘I think this might be the best group top to bottom that I’ve seen in about 10 years,” Arians said. “There are some teams in college running the ball, not just the top two or four guys, but all the way down. There are 15 really quality running backs in this draft. I think we’ll have a chance to get one we really like. ‘’
Arians dropped some quotes that reporters normally around him have come to expect.
Asked about how his coaching style had changed since his early days, he said, “If I coached the way I coached at Temple, I’d be fired.”
And he was asked what he said to Cardinals general manager Steve Keim about being voted Sporting News executive of the year.
“Dude,” he said, “you got a cup. We can drink out of that.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report