Sports

Saints’ Winston relishing ‘opportunity to execute’

METAIRIE, La. — Apparently, Jameis Winston has taken his No. 1 lesson from Drew Brees to heart.

Winston said earlier this offseason that the main thing he learned as Brees’ backup with the New Orleans Saints last year was the value of “making the right decision” instead of trying to force things that aren’t there. And sure enough, Winston has made a notable impression during the first three days of training camp with an efficient mix of quick, decisive throws and smart checkdowns, along with the occasional deep ball.

“Listen, there’s not no checkdown mentality,” Winston said with a smile as he quickly corrected the wording of a question. “It’s, ‘Take what they give you.’ That’s one thing our coaches preach. On my wristband, it says, ‘Elite progressions.’ We want to do that — me, Taysom (Hill), all the quarterbacks. We want to be elite in our progressions.”

The competition to become New Orleans’ starting quarterback is still wide open after Brees retired this offseason.

Hill, 30, spent the first two days of practice working with the first-string unit, while the 27-year-old Winston took his turn in the starting rotation Saturday. On the flip side, Winston started off hotter Thursday and Friday, while Hill had the better performance Saturday.

Regardless of the daily scoreboard, it’s clear that both quarterbacks feel more comfortable in the system. While Winston is going into Year 2, Hill is going into Year 4 and starting four games as an injury replacement for Brees last season.

“Being able to experience Sean (Payton) and Drew’s relationship, it gave me a good grasp of the system. But obviously reps are what’s important,” Winston said. “This year, I’ve probably got more reps in three days than I got all of last year. So it’s an incredible feeling to be able to go out there and have the opportunity to execute.

“It’s been fun, and I think I’m getting a good grasp of it. But obviously my objective is to get better every single day.”

Longtime Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. said he has been impressed by what a “quick study” Winston is — but also by how much of a deep dive Winston has done into his own self-scouting over the past year and a half.

Winston hasn’t shied away from the narrative that surrounds him after he infamously became the first player in league history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ quarterback in 2019 — then was replaced by Tom Brady.

In fact, Brady is one of the quarterbacks Winston studied closely over this past year.

“Every year I get a chance to do a self-scout of myself. But this year I had so many people to scout,” Winston said. “I mean, we had Tom Brady playing in an offense that I played in the year before. We had Matt Ryan playing in an offense with (former Bucs coach) Dirk Koetter in Atlanta. We had Drew Brees playing in this offense. And then we had Teddy (Bridgewater) playing in (a version of) Sean’s offense in Carolina.

“I was able to watch four great quarterbacks execute in those systems. So I was able to take some things from them. I was able to take some things that I learned from my experience in those offenses, and obviously this newer offense with Sean. … So it was an amazing year for me in terms of just growth of learning football overall.”

Hill, meanwhile, has made some physical changes along with his mental growth. Listed at 6-2, 221, Hill said he got leaner in his upper body while focusing solely on being a quarterback for the first time – whereas in years past he came into camp knowing he might also be used as a RB/TE/WR/special teams specialist.

Hill went 3-1 as a starting quarterback last year. A dual-threat QB since he was a star at BYU, Hill probably threw the ball downfield better than most people expected while completing more than 70% of his passes. But he struggled with fumbles and displayed a need to make quicker decisions and get through progressions faster.

Surprisingly, Hill didn’t rely on his running ability to get him out of trouble as much as he probably could have. Carmichael said he reminded Hill, “Hey, you’re still Taysom Hill. … Don’t let that disappear.”

“I think there are levels to (mastering the Saints’ offense),” Hill said. “If you talk about understanding the offense the way that Drew did, or Coach does, I certainly don’t feel like I’m there. But every year you become more comfortable in what you’re doing.

“I think my comfort level inside the offense is higher now (so) that you can spend more time (focusing) on what the defense is doing.”

Payton admitted that it presents a “uniqueness” to this QB battle that the candidates’ skill sets are so different. But as quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry said, the Saints’ offense has always shown the flexibility to adapt from game plan to game plan instead of being rigid.

“Our job is to give them opportunities to do things that they do well,” Payton said. “We’re going to do our best to give them every bit the opportunity to be our starter. They both have had a good offseason. And both I think are very well respected in the locker room for not only their skillset on the field, but their leadership and work ethic off the field.”

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