By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Gerald McCoy remembers what it was like to enter the NFL on a struggling team lacking strong veteran leaders who rookies could rely on for guidance.
That’s one of the reasons the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle is eager to help No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston with his transition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
McCoy was the third player selected in the 2010 draft, instantly becoming the face of a franchise that’s fallen on hard times since winning its only Super Bowl championship 12 seasons ago.
Winston’s name is up on the marquee with his now, and the personable sixth-year pro is embracing his role as a mentor for the rookie quarterback, who’s launching his pro career while also trying to repair a reputation damaged by mistakes the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner made off the field in college.
“The thing I told him is just be a rookie. Don’t try and come and turn the franchise around your first year. You are still young. You haven’t played a snap in the NFL,” McCoy said during a three-day mandatory minicamp that concluded Tampa Bay’s offseason program.
“Being the first overall pick, a lot comes with that, but you can’t do it overnight,” McCoy added. “I mentioned Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning still has the rookie record for interceptions, but now he’s Peyton Manning. You just have to be patient.”
Huge expectations also accompanied McCoy’s arrival in Tampa Bay. He struggled to meet them his first two seasons, which both ended prematurely because injuries, but has emerged as one of the league’s best players at his position over the past three years.
The Bucs rewarded him last October with a seven-year contract extension worth up to $98 million.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle knows firsthand the type of pressure Winston is likely to feel as a player expected to make a difference right away.
The Bucs went 3-13 the year before McCoy was drafted. They were 2-12 last season, ranking 30th among 32 teams in total offense.
“It’s definitely huge. I can speak from the worst of the worst. Getting hurt the first two years to being labeled a bust to people calling for your head to now people saying: `He’s always been good.’ Yeah, right. I can speak from both sides. That’s why I told him to just be a rookie,” McCoy said.
“You can’t bring your feelings to the NFL. You are going to get attacked. It’s going to happen. You are the first overall pick. You have to be perfect, otherwise you’re not good enough. That’s how it works,” McCoy added. “You’ve got to be patient, stay focused and just do things the right way.”
Winston, 21, seems appreciative of McCoy trying to be helpful.
“It’s good to have a big-time guy like that to just take the time out and try to mentor a young guy like me,” the rookie said. “It means a lot, and that’s why I respect him so much.”
Winston said the gist of the advice he’s received from defensive tackle’s message is to “lay low.” And, he thinks it’s helping him to earn the respect of other veterans in the locker room.
“I’m just laying low, being myself. Real recognizes real,” the former Florida State standout said. “These guys have been great. Vincent (Jackson) and Logan (Mankins) and Gerald have been great to me. I’m accepting my role right now.”