The character of Jamie Winborn

#51 / Linebacker / Denver Broncos. Height: 5-11  Weight: 230

Like a lot of Broncos people, I first noticed Jamie Winborn when the Broncos acquired him last September – we needed help at LB and he was an interesting pickup. The word potential was used a lot. With seven years of experience behind him, I hoped that he could help bolster our corps. He played well in a few games, made a lot of good tackles on ST and this off-season I rooted for him to catch on to the squad.

Then, on a whim I began to Google him. A few articles widened my eyes, and after several hours I decided to share a little of what I found. The Broncos are going heavily after players who have character and IMHO Jamie Winborn has it in spades.

Jamie was born on May 13, 1979 in Wetumpka Alabama. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad – few have. A few words from SI’s Dr Z explains it:

"As a 7-year old in Wetumpka, Ala., he knew what it was like to pick peas and load watermelons 10 hours a day. And to grow up with a father he'd never known and a mother whose drug problems had her in and out of jail, to grow up in a two-room house in the Alabama woods, where the roof always leaked when it rained and the electricity was turned off most of the time and the toilets and plumbing never worked ... the woods were his toilet.

He knew what it was like to fight in school every day because he thought people were passing remarks about his mother. Somehow he survived, and sports and the schoolbooks became his escape. He wound up at Vanderbilt, an undersized but explosive linebacker, and then joined the San Francisco 49ers as a second-round draft choice last year (2001)."

At Vanderbilt, other players struggled to understand his back-woods accent, so he changed his entire way of speaking, and gives speeches today. That is the kind of man Winborn is – he will change anything that holds him back, and he never, ever gives up. He’s also that kind of player. He led the SEC in tackles over two seasons and during that time recording 272 stops, 38 tackles for a loss and 13 1/2 sacks. He was not the biggest of players at 5'11, 235 pounds, but he bench pressed 420 pounds and ran a 4.55 40. He was also a preseason first-team All-SEC and All-American selection and was possibly the best defender ever to wear a Commodore uniform.

Winborn struggled with a knee and thigh injuries his first year. It was a pattern that would plague him throughout his career. Returning to training camp in 2002, he became a backup to Jeff Ulbrich. On Sept 5 2002 Ulbrich was out with an injury as the 49ers played the Giants. Dr Z was there:

 "I saw one of the most remarkable displays of outside linebacker play that I'd ever witnessed. It seemed as if Winborn had stolen the Giants' playbook. He had a read on everything ... runs, passes. He'd shoot the gap and tackle the runner in the backfield; next play he'd drop into coverage and lock onto the receiver at the same time the ball arrived. It was a virtuoso performance, a textbook on how to play weakside linebacker in the NFL. The stat sheet credited him with 16 total tackles, the high number in the league that weekend, but his performance was more about instincts than numbers.

"Well, I knew about Winborn as a special teamer and occasional starter last season, and I knew he got the call against the Giants because the regular, Jeff Ulbrich, was out with a hyperextended knee. And the big question in my mind, as I headed for the 49ers locker room, was how do you send a guy like Winborn back to the bench after a performance like that?" (Sports Illustrated, Wed. Oct 2)

After his 16 tackles in the 49ers' 2002 opener against the New York Giants he played just two more games before spraining his left knee. After multiple setbacks his leg required surgery, but Winborn even took this as a positive and said his injuries allowed him,

" take a different perspective on the game. I'm better on film study now, in the weight room, in a lot of the little things you have to do."

Winborn never quite meshed with the staff of the 49ers, although the players loved him and his high motor. He did play in 14 games in 2004, and he notched 63 tackles, 55 unassisted, with 4.5 sacks.

Coach Mike Nolan took over the 49ers and tried to put his stamp on the team, in part by switching to a 3-4 defense. Winborn was considered slow to catch on to the new system, although he had 13 tackles in the first two games. But in a shocking move, Coach Nolan suddenly benched him and told him to clean out his locker. Nolan traded him to Jacksonville for a 7th round draft pick. Some felt that he was signaling the team that that no player was safe. Winborn, feeling that he was a starting linebacker in the NFL, fearlessly picked up a portion of his then-$550,000 salary to seal the deal.

Jacksonville cut him loose quickly after a late fall of more injuries, but Tampa picked him up in the following spring. He spent one season with the Bucs, notching an anemic 12 tackles in 14 games of sporadic play. The Buccaneers weren’t ready to give him what he felt was a sufficient long term commitment. Winborn had signed a five-year deal with the Buccaneers as a free agent during the 2006 offseason. However, his deal, which included a $200,000 signing bonus, has an option in it that would allow the former Vanderbilt star to buy himself out of the rest of the deal and become an unrestricted free agent on March 2 2007.

"Right now I’m just waiting to see if Tampa Bay wants to do a longer term deal as opposed to me buying out of the deal and exploring the market," Winborn told "I really like Tampa and that’s pretty much where I’d like to be. I’m just trying to give it a little more time to see what happens."

According to the Tampa media, he bought himself out of his contract and repaid the $200,000 signing bonus he received in 2006. He chose to not earn the $200,000 roster bonus he was scheduled to receive in March of '07. Winborn wanted a new contract that would show more of a long-term commitment on Tampa Bay’s part.

"When I came here I was expecting something different than what I’ve gotten," said Winborn. "But I don’t have a problem with that. I’m just looking for some type of long-term commitment. They know what I’m capable of doing and they know what they have. Hopefully they like what they’ve seen and want to make a move on it."

The Bucs weren't in much of a hurry to make a move of that level for a player that they weren't convinced about. So, on September 11, 2007 he signed with the Denver Broncos. In 14 games (2 starts) he led the team with 11 special-teams tackles while adding 24 defensive tackles (21 solo), including a half-sack (4.5 yds.), and three passes defensed. He is a natural LB at the WILL position, but since DJ Williams is (IMO) a soon-to-be Probowler, Winborn must continue to make his mark as a backup and on ST.

How do you vote against a man who came from nothing, with no known father and a drug-addicted mother, who lived with no plumbing, who escaped to schoolwork and managed grow up early, to get thru the Vanderbilt program and then to achieve being drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL draft? Who cheerfully returns money to gain a chance at a team who sees him as he sees himself? For that matter, how many teams don’t need a player who will play snap to whistle every down of every day and who puts out his all on special teams whenever asked?

"I've basically been trying to overcome stereotypes from previous coaches, stuff like that . . . as far as personalitywise and what kind of person I was when I left California and San Francisco. People were asking me about that when I was visiting teams," Winborn said. "I've just tried to stay patient. I know what type of player I am. I kept working and playing hard and kept being the guy I am, and it's worked out."

The Broncos gave Winborn a two-year contract extension this off-season. The deal is reportedly worth $4 million over the next season and gives him the opportunity to earn $1.5 million in various bonuses in 2008 and '09. Hopefully, that is enough of a commitment for Winborn to stay a Bronco. I hope he earns every dime of those bonuses. Even if he hasn’t yet reached that vaunted ‘next level’ you have to admire his courage, persistence, his belief in himself and his ceaseless effort. Those are the things of character. And character does have value on the Denver Broncos.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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