Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of the rare NFL players who both won a Super Bowl in his rookie season and actually contributed to the team in a meaningful way in that first season.
A second-round pick out of Minnesota in the 2020 draft, Winfield finished the season with 94 tackles, three sacks, and a handful of interceptions, including a pick in the Super Bowl.
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Moving into his second season on a team that’s trying to repeat as champions, Winfield sees his own personal maturity improving.
“I feel like most of my improvement is just mental,” Winfield said. “That first year, they throw so many things out at you and just learning the scheme and things like that. But after being in the system for a year, I just feel like mentally my game is just sharper and a little bit better than last year so that’s where I feel the best at.”
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles agrees, saying that Winfield has all of the physical talent necessary to be a longtime NFL player, and that his mentality will make the difference.
“Just the mental growth of the game,” Bowles said of Winfield’s offseason improvement. “We both know he left some plays out there on the field last year. He’s doing his job and playing his position, but he can expand on that, and he will. He has already some in camp. Just knowing the overall defense and knowing where he can cheat and take advantage of his plays and not just use his athletic ability.”
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While Winfield is expected to see significant playing time this season, Bowles made sure to emphasize the competition element in camp, as well. In other words, nothing is set in stone, even for standout rookies. They, too, have to show up every day and improve; otherwise, the team has no chance to repeat as NFL champions.
“When I was a player, the door was always open for anybody to take a spot,” Bowles said. “You have to make me notice you, and as coaches, you have to show yourself when we put you out there to make plays in certain situations. So you’re the starter until somebody plays better than you and replaces you. If nobody plays better than you, you’re probably going to be the starter.”