Last season was a learning process for both quarterbacks who'll vie to start for the New Orleans Saints in 2021: Taysom Hill, who opened four games in '20 in place of the injured Drew Brees, and Jameis Winston, who didn't start for the first time after opening 70 of 72 games for Tampa Bay in his first five NFL seasons.
Each shared his experience Tuesday, as several Saints players and Coach Sean Payton held a media availability on the first day of New Orleans' three-day "minicamp," which encompassed more mental work and position-specific works than team drills.
"There are some things specific to our offense, things that I would have done differently with some of my footwork, some decision-making based on coverage, and stuff like that," said Hill, who went 3-1 as the starter. "The footwork stuff has been the easy thing to focus on this offseason. There are other things that I continue to work on.
"I think every quarterback would tell you that your feet should take you where the ball goes. I think as you throw routes on air, you're just trying to get work in but then you get into a game, you're trying to replicate a rush and everything else. Those are the things that I'm employing. I think that I could have sped some things up, based on some offensive concepts, where maybe I was maybe a little bit late on a throw, but I felt like we weren't ready to deliver the ball."
Winston, who played in four regular-season games and threw a touchdown in the Saints' Divisional playoff game loss to Tampa Bay, also took note of a few things not to do.
"It's a process," Winston said. "This is going to be my seventh year and I've learned so many different things that I can apply to help me fit to my game now. And I've learned some things that I don't need to apply to my game.
"One thing I have learned, specifically over the past two years – it's not necessarily doing the things that you know, it's being able to say 'no.' Not doing the things that you should not do, instead of just doing the things that you should do. Because being an NFL quarterback, everybody can get back there and throw the ball. But being able to make those decisions, that, 'Hey, we cannot do this,' is really a big factor into are you going to be a great quarterback, or are you going to be average?"
The quarterback battle will intensify during training camp, when the Saints earnestly begin team drills as they prepare to open with a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2005. Brees joined the franchise as an unrestricted free agent in '06, and started the next 15 years.
"I believe every year I'm in a competition," Winston said. "This is the NFL. This is a job. I don't go into any year with expectations (of not competing). Like, last year I felt like I was competing against Drew Brees in training camp. Realistically, I probably knew that I wasn't going to be the starting quarterback for the Saints.
"But every year, since I've been playing little league football, I've been in competition. That's the sport, that's how we get better. If you are playing a sport, believing, 'Hey, I've got this position locked down,' it's very tough for you to get better."
"Both those guys, both of them are extremely hard workers, both of them are doing a great job leading and they're working together organizing throwing sessions," Payton said. "I've talked before about the leadership in that room, I think they're doing a really good job."
Payton said the offense will adapt to the strengths of whomever emerges as the starter.
"We've always tried to look closely at the strengths of our players, what they do well," he said. "We'll build a little bit around that player accordingly. That's something that we did when Drew first arrived here and we would do with either of these two players."
Neither Hill nor Winston expect a drastic shift from the Saints' fundamental offensive philosophies.
Taysom Hill talks healthy competition with Jameis Winston | Saints Minicamp 2021
"I think you're obviously trying to tailor an offense toward a specific skill-set or talents, so I think the sooner that you know, the quicker you can tailor it," Hill said. "But I would say, with that being said, our core is going to be the same.
"I look at the last four games that I was playing last season, we did some things differently. Some things were taken out of the offense, some things were added, but the core is all the same. So as we go to training camp, we approach all these days really trying to hone in on the fundamentals, make sure that we have our bread and butter, and that's the stuff that we're going to be really good at. I don't think that ever changes."
"We've made a few adjustments but my main goal is to master what we've already done here," Winston said. "We've been very successful as an offense over the course of 15 years, and these coaches are used to the same guy being back there. I'm trying to just continue to grasp this offense and within that, I can find things in this offense conceptually that I really like, and some things that I don't have much love for."
Each said he also will rely on some of what was learned from Brees during their time as teammates.
"Just how to be a complete pro, how to come to work every day with a purpose and with an initiative," Winston said.
"It's all about being able to be humble and keep your eyes on the prize. I'm staying onward, I'm moving forward in everything that I do. I have to get better every single year, whether it's a great year or a not-so-good year. My seven years in this league have been a blessing, because I worked my whole life to have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league. One year of not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the helm and lead a team."
"He did it at such a high level, everything that he did," Hill said of Brees. "I learned so much from him. But the things that I learned from him were more just being able to observe the way he approached every day, every game, more so than the things that we had conversations about – although that was very enlightening as well.
"Obviously, Drew played the position different than I'll play it, different than other people played it. So I think really what stands out to me is the way that he approached each day, the way that he approached each snap – everything was so deliberate."