TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers insist they don’t have a quarterback controversy.
Jameis Winston practiced Wednesday for the first time since serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, returning to a team that’s ridden Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm to a surprising 2-1 start.
“I’m excited to be back,” a beaming Winston said. “I’m so happy we had some success. … We’ve got to keep it up.”
Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-old journeyman who’s played for seven teams over 14 seasons, has thrown for 1,230 yards and 11 touchdowns while becoming the first player in league history to top 400 yards passing in three consecutive games.
“When a guy throws for 400 yards three games in a row, you gotta love that,” Winston said, adding that he’s happy for Fitzpatrick, as well as proud of the entire team for how it performed in his absence.
“Me being back, nothing’s changing. I’m happy that when we have a win, I can dap guys up and celebrate with them,” he added. “That’s the part you miss, that team bonding.”
Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft and started 45 of 48 games the past three seasons.
Coach Dirk Koetter remained mum on who will start Sunday’s game at Chicago.
He has informed both Winston and Fitzpatrick, but has no intentions of letting the Bears know what’s planned.
Winston took a stab at diffusing the conversation before retreating.
“I’m here to assist the best way I possibly can,” the fourth-year pro when asked what his reaction be to not being the starter against the Bears. “My passion for this team, my love for this team goes beyond whether I’m out there throwing the football for this team or not.”
Without hesitation, he quickly added: “It’s my first day back. Let me enjoy that before I (answer) any more questions about that.”
Fitzpatrick is expected to meet with the media on Thursday.
“It’s about the team’s success. I’m not a selfish player, it’s about our team,” Winston said. “We’re out here doing big things, and we’ve got to continue doing that.”
The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner practiced with the Bucs for the first time since the preseason. He was forbidden to be at the team’s training facility or have contact with coaches of teammates during the suspension.
Tuesday was the first day Winston was allowed to get back to work. He arrived at the complex at about 5:30 a.m., even though it was an off day for teammates following Monday night’s 30-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Winston recruited a couple of coaches and more than 20 players, including former NFL receiver Louis Murphy, to join him for workouts designed to help the quarterback remain sharp and in condition during the layoff.
“I did my best impersonation of what it would be like being here,” Winston said. “I got guys from the Orlando area, Fort Lauderdale, Lakeland. … We just went to work. I didn’t want the guys in this building to be working hard and I wasn’t out there doing my thing.”
Teammates were excited to have Winston back in the locker room and on the practice field. They insist they won’t take sides in the quarterback situation, stressing that they’re confident they can with Winston or Fitzpatrick.
“Jameis handled it like a pro. What else would you expect?” Koetter said.
“He came back prepared. That’s no surprise,” Koetter added. “It was great to have him back. Jameis is a favourite of everyone around here, so great to have his energy back in the building, his smile back in the building. I know he’s happy to be here. We’re happy to have him.”