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Quarterback Jameis Winston relishes being back among his New Orleans Saints teammates

"I couldn't wait to get back around the guys and being in team activities and just work"

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New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston warms up during the team's 2022 OTA practices on May 26, 2022 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

You can't possibly miss the brace on Jameis Winston's left knee, the device the New Orleans Saints quarterback is wearing and will continue to wear throughout the year as he progresses back from tearing his ACL in the seventh game of the 2021 season.

"I am going to be wearing the brace during the season, I think everyone does that after an ACL, especially at the quarterback position," Winston said Thursday, after the Saints completed their third OTA. "There's nothing limiting, there's nothing that really bothers you from that perspective. So, I'm commanding the brace now."

Also unmistakable is Winston's joy at being back in the middle of it all, as a teammate and player.

"Excited," he said. "And grateful. Every time I get an opportunity to step on the field and work with my teammates, I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity, and I'm grateful that I get a chance to do that."

"He's determined," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "He's committed to it. I think it's a good sign to see for your football team, to see your quarterback out there whether he be working through an injury or not. But to see him out there, I think that says a lot about him and the kind of person and leader that he is."

Winston said he's pleased with the physical progress that he has made, and added that strengthening the area around his meniscus now is a top priority.

"Drops are at full speed right now," he said. "Still progressing into running. But I'm more just taking advantage of every opportunity I can get. I'm happy I can take full-speed reps with passing, not rolling out and stuff yet. (But) everything is going great."

Coach Dennis Allen agreed with the assessment. Winston was present for all OTAs this week.

"I think he's looked good, I think he's made a lot of progress," Allen said. "We've still got a ways to go to get him ready, but we like the progress he's making, we like where he's at and hopefully that'll continue.

"With the way that he works and how hard he works, it doesn't surprise me. I think we've got to continue to be smart with that, which I think we are. We're going to continue to push to get him better, but yet try to be smart about it."

Winston threw 14 touchdowns and three interceptions last season during his shortened appearance, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,170 yards. Nearly seven months removed from suffering his injury, he said he felt he was at this level of physical progress four months ago.

"I felt in three months that I was back to this point," Winston said, smiling. "But I'm always embracing the process, always trying to find new ways. It's actually a blessing in disguise, being able to strengthen other muscles – my hip flexors, my glutes, my quads and hamstrings. Just kind of revamping my whole body and just making sure everything is tight-knit and ready to go."

Part of the tight-knit aspect for Winston is regaining his mobility, which proved to be an added bonus last season. He rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries before tearing his ACL on Halloween.

"I think it helps me get more emphasis on my knee drive," he said. "Being able to rehab different parts of my hip flexor – I never really worked on sprint mechanics before. But being able to get into rehab and work those type of things, I feel like I opened up my game a little bit."

While the injury has helped open up that aspect of development on the field, it opened up his appreciation for being part of the process, too.

"The mind-set of just being in the building with my teammates," Winston said. "I think that's so important. Last season I missed that. Seven weeks in the building, it was OK but having a whole season, finishing – I couldn't wait to get back around the guys and being in team activities and just work."

New Orleans Saints players participated in the team's 2022 OTA practices on May 26, 2022 at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

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