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Jameis Winston tries to tackle his troubles

INDIANAPOLIS --The file of character concerns for Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is overstuffed with items: a sexual assault allegation that ended without a criminal charge, a profane outburst at the FSU student union that resulted in a one-game suspension, and, of course, the shoplifting of crab legs from a Tallahassee grocery store.

Recent shoulder trouble might be the least of his concerns. But after an MRI on his throwing shoulder Thursday, he insisted it would not keep him from throwing at his Scouting Combine workout Saturday, and his discomfort could be eased by no longer moonlighting on Florida State's baseball team, for which he was a relief pitcher with a fastball clocked at 95 miles per hour, outfielder and designated hitter.

An offseason spent focused on football rather than fastballs should help his need for rest and recovery between football campaigns. But he can do little about his past except to admit his mistakes, show contrition and try to convince a team that his indiscretions were errors of youth and will not be repeated when he becomes the face of his new franchise.

That's what separates him from being a slam dunk at the top of the draft. He might still end up becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the risk-reward ratio might send his stock down through the first round.

But he knows that until the draft arrives, he must answer character questions until he's tired of them, and then teams and media will ask him some more.

And that's why he stepped to the podium Friday afternoon and cut off the inquisition at the pass. Instead of reading the room and reacting to the questions, he addressed the issues within seconds of his introduction.

A handful of images of players Denver might be considering in the 2015 NFL Draft

"First off, before we start anything, I want to let you all know I know made mistakes and I know I have a past, but right now it's about me moving forward and earning the trust of all these 32 teams out there," he said. "And by saying that, I'm a competitor and I know what I'm capable of doing so I will be throwing tomorrow at the combine."

So he answered questions about his ability to push through difficulty. And although he occasionally had spates of interceptions at Florida State, his resilience and short memory of mistakes will serve him well in the NFL.

All that is left, then, is convincing a team that when he leaves Tallahassee, he leaves behind his checkered past. That, above all, is what teams need to know.

"What I do tell them is I have to earn your trust," Winston said. "And I can't talk about situations or anything like that in the past but what I can do is prove to you and let you watch me grow into being the face of your franchise."

Denver fans know all about the quarterback being the face of the franchise. From John Elway to Peyton Manning, on billboards, buses, the sides of trains, television screens and even welcoming airline passengers to the city, the quarterback is as recognizable in the town in which he plays as the governor or president.

This is Winston's future. And while it's clear that he possesses the physical tools to eventually become an elite NFL quarterback, it's the other aspects of the job description that gives observers pause.

He's confident and a bit brash. There's no problem with that. But it can cross the line to cockiness, and that can be a problem.

"I plan on winning the Super Bowl next year so it's going to be me vs. Peyton Manning and Jameis vs. Tom Brady," he said Friday.

He's talented, and has enough football intelligence to make calls and checks at the line of scrimmage in a complex system, as he did under Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. But he hasn't learned the limits of his talent, and that led to clusters of errant throws.

Experience in the NFL -- and a few humbling days along the way -- could solve those two issues. But the character ones? That's up to him, and how he takes the lessons to heart.

"One thing that helped me realize about all my mistakes is getting a chance to be around the kids. I went to read at this elementary (school) in Tallahassee and when I see how those kids look up to me, I feel bad about myself.

"The hardest thing is just being real with yourself and letting yourself know you let somebody down. I'm a family person, but when I look in a kid's eyes and I see like, 'Dang, that little kid might have seen something on TV and he can say anything he wants to say about me,' and then I have a 7-year-old little brother at home that's looking up to me every single day. Right then, I'm like I just can't disappoint that little man, because that's my little brother. I'm his inspiration. In a way, he's living through me.

"When I went home, he showed me my high school video and he said, 'Jaboo, that's me.' And it was me on the film. I've got many people to inspire and I've got so many kids looking up to me, not only as a quarterback, but as a person and I want to be that role model for them."

If he wants to be more than he's been, if he wants to be the face of a franchise, and if he wants to ensure that all the fears about him are unfounded, then he must remember those children, his brother, with every decision he makes.

Winston can never do anything to empty his permanent record of the litany of issues. All he can do is try not to add any more.

Whether he can will determine whether he's a massively talented quarterback who flames out, like so many busts or the past, or an elite passer who carries his new team for many years to come. Either way, don't expect the outcome to be quiet; there will be boisterous celebration from him and his new team, or a loud crash that paralyzes the club that drafts him for years.

Do you have a question for Andrew Mason? Ask it here and you might be in this week's Mailbag!


Shots from Friday's first day of workouts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. (Credit: The Associated Press)


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