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Jameis Winston struggles, finishes strong in preseason debut

Winston struggled through most of the first half Saturday, but led the Buccaneers on a 76-yard touchdown drive as the second quarter was coming to a close.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Jameis Winston played in a football game, his Florida State Seminoles were walloped in the Rose Bowl. The stakes were a lot lower when Winston stepped onto the field Saturday night for his first game as a Buccaneer, and he finished strongly after a sluggish start.

Winston went 3-for-10 and threw an interception in Tampa Bay's first six possessions of the first half. But then he settled down and led the Bucs on a 76-yard touchdown drive as the first half was coming to a close.

Winston completed his first five passes of the drive before scrambling into the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown run with 1:12 remaining in the second quarter. It was an impressive display of pocket awareness from the rookie, especially considering some of his early miscues.

Though Winston struggled in the first quarter, he still threw the ball downfield on a couple of occasions. Perhaps Winston's best toss of the night was a 40-yard completion to Vincent Jackson on the Bucs' third drive, which came on 3rd-and-14. He finished the night 9-for-19 for 131 yards.

It has been an up-and-down training camp so far for Winston, who was named the Bucs' starter at the end of July. He threw three interceptions in a practice earlier this month, and has been picked off eight times in practice. Winston recently told ESPN's Ron Jaworski he's struggled to adjust to certain aspects of the professional game.

"I think the biggest difference is the linebackers," said Winston. "In college, you don’t have linebackers that can actually defend the pass," Jameis said. "These guys out here, you know, they’re jumping seam routes. They’re five yards under my seam routes; they jumpin’ a bender."

Since 2007, only five quarterbacks who have been selected in the first round of the draft have played less than 500 snaps in their rookie campaign. Over the last several years, most clubs have opted to have their young franchise QBs learn on the job instead of sitting behind a veteran placeholder.

If Doug Martin can return to form after two subpar and injury-riddled seasons, Winston shouldn't have to carry the full load offensively. He has three large and potentially dynamic receivers at his disposal, too, as Mike Evans, Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jackson all stand at 6'5.

It's dangerous – and futile, quite frankly – to make any definitive judgments about a rookie quarterback after just one preseason game and a couple of weeks of training camp. Winston improved as the game progressed Saturday, and couldn't have finished more strongly.

At this stage, that is the best the Buccaneers can hope for.