For decades, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in search for a marquee quarterback. Doug Williams was in close contention, and did in fact win a Superbowl, but not with the Buccaneers. Ever since he left in the mid 1980′s, the Bucs have been on an exhausting, and often desperate search.
At one point they had Steve Young, but traded him away to use the number one draft pick in 1987 on Vinnie Testerverde. He was supposed to be the next Joe Montana, but fell well short on succeeding in Tampa. That led the Bucs to spending another first round pick on Trent Dilfer, who once again won a Superbowl, but not with the Buccaneers.
After a series of underwhelming first-round picks, the Buccaneers wouldn’t use higher than a second rounder on a quarterback, which led to the demise of Jon Gruden. In the 2008 offseason, Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired, and Mark Dominik – the youngest general manager in the league — was put in control of the franchise.
Dominik came up with a plan, which he immediately put it into action. This, in conjunction with the inside track from newly hired head coach Raheem Morris, who drafted Josh Freeman with the 17th pick. Morris coached the defense at Kansas State University, so he had a fairly transparent view as to who Freeman was.
Coming into the draft process, you could see that Freeman had all of the tools to be a top-tier NFL quarterback. He had a rocket for an arm, great size, and good athletic ability. Like clockwork, however, the jury was out on whether he could put it all together at the next level.
In 2010 we put speculation to rest. He had a fantastic season throwing for 25 touchdowns, and only six interceptions on the year. He lead the Buccaneers to a 10-6 record, and if not for a bad call against the Detroit Lions, they would have made the playoffs. He looked like he was well on his way to becoming a very good quarterback.
Then 2011 came, and all negative attention surrounding the Buccaneers was signified by Freeman. Poor play calling, the lack of weapons, and poor decisions led to an NFL high, 22 interceptions in his second, full year starting. Mike Williams was also criticized for his play after a fantastic rookie season, but disappointed in his second year. He struggled to get off of press coverage, and beating defenses that were planning for him.
In the 2012 off season, the Buccaneers decided it was time to make another change: hold onto Freeman, and get some weapons. In that time, they added a big time number one receiver in Vincent Jackson. Also, to reduce the predictability of the offense, they traded up in the draft to get Doug Martin to give them a compete running back.
The biggest thing they did was change offensive schemes by hiring the quarterbacks coach from the New York Giants, Mike Sullivan. Sullivan did wonders coaching up Eli Manning, and helping him reduce turnovers; one of Freeman’s biggest problems. The only issue that I questioned with this addition, is that Sullivan is Freeman’s third offensive coordinator in his short career.
Four games into this season, and my reviews on Freeman are uplifted. He has vastly improved in certain areas, like reading his progressions, and not forcing the ball into bad places. Even three of his interceptions so far have come off tipped passes. But substantial issues are preventing his personal forward progression.
His accuracy remains his biggest issue. While he has shown flashes early, he needs to be consistent. The other problem is that he is too tentative to get out of the pocket and make plays. One of the most obvious observations, is that he tries too hard to be something he isn’t when he sits in the pocket for extended periods of time.
Freeman needs to get on the move, whether that is by design, or him taking it into his own hands. I know there are some throws where he needs to sit in the pocket and deliver, but he’s at his best when he’s on the move and can isolate defenders, creating room with his feet. Because he is a proven runner, he needs to make faster decisions to go for it. In 2010, he was so successful because if he didn’t trust his reads, he made plays with his legs, instead of loitering in the pocket for target practice.
I truly believe that Freeman is the answer for the Buccaneers, but he has to take that step, and soon. The most important thing to me, is getting him out of the pocket. I would love to see him return to the style of play that drew us to rally around him in the beginning, and I think that’s the key. I fully expect Freeman to take that step, and lead the Bucs to a good second half of the season.