Posts Tagged ‘Josh Freeman’

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On October 25th 2009, a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium, London, witnessed a turning point in Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise history. Josh Freeman took his first meaningful snaps as an NFL quarterback.

I use the word ‘meaningful’ loosely, there were just 9 minutes left in a game that the Bucs trailed 35-7. Both teams had pulled their starters and the 74 thousand fans were beginning to filter through the exits into the cold London air. Those that stayed to the games conclusion could be forgiven for not realising the importance of the events unfolding before them. The 21 year old Freeman completed 2 of his 4 passes for 16 yards and added little to the Bucs performance.

Freeman was certainly flying under the radar. He’d been picked 17th overall in that years draft, behind Matthew Stafford (1st overall – Lions) and Mark Sanchez (5th overall – Jets). Hype and hoopla surrounded both of those picks, of Freeman little was expected, even by some Buccaneer fans who were vocal in questioning his ability.

The 6’5”, 240lb Freeman was certainly an imposing figure, built more like a tight end than a qb, with the footwork and speed to match, rushing for 20TD’s in over 200 attempts in his 35 college appearances

The Bucs then head coach, Raheem Morris defended the selection, telling the media that he would have picked Freeman above both Stafford and Sanchez had the Bucs been first on the clock.(Bucs GM Mark Dominik was rumoured to have wanted Sanchez) and Morris should have known, he was on the coaching staff at Kansas State, Freeman’s alma mater.

Freeman certainly seemed worthy of the high praise in his first Buccaneers start on 9th November 2009, at home to Green Bay.

Decked out in the Buccaneers creamsicle throwback uniform, Josh rallied the Bucs from a 28-17 deficit in the 4th quarter to win the game 38-28. The first of many 4th quarter comebacks orchestrated by the young triggerman. He again led his team back from a 10 point hole at Miami a week later to lead by a point late on, though the Bucs leaky defense conceded a late field goal and lost the game with seconds left on the clock.

Through his first three appearances the rookie signal caller had been largely mistake free, though he’d then throw 11 interceptions over his next 4 games, losing them all, and only one of those losses coming by less than 10 points.

In a tough rookie year, there was one more impressive performance to come, at Seattle, where Freeman threw a pair of touchdown passes and ran in himself for a 2 point conversion in a 24-7 victory.

Despite ending the year with a 3-6 record as a starter, Freeman had largely impressed. His mistakes were common to most rookie quarterbacks, staring receivers down, throwing to his primary choice without going through his progressions. His upside was obvious, speed, power and athleticism, and his canny ability to avoid sacks, coupled with the coolness to rally the team late in the game. The vocal minority who didn’t want him in Tampa had slunk away to vent at something else (usually the Bucs porous defense), but they’d be back in due course.

A broken thumb suffered against the Chiefs kept Freeman out for most of the 2010 preseason, though he hit the ground running when the regular season kicked off on September 12th. Trailing in the 4th quarter at home to Cleveland, Freeman completed a 33 yard pass to Michael Spurlock to win the game. Another win a week later at Carolina gave the Bucs their first 2-0 start since 2005.

This year, 2010 was the year that Josh first garnered national media attention, throwing 25 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions (a 1.5% interception ratio) and led the young Buccaneers on 5 game winning drives and to a 10-6 record overall, narrowly missing the final NFC wild card spot when the the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers defeated the Bears at Lambeau field a couple of hours after the Bucs had beaten the Saints in the Superdome.

One thing was certain, when the game was on the line, Freeman seemed to steel himself, and go out on the field and make the final drive to win. Not only had Freeman silenced his critics, he was being touted as a future star of the NFL. After years of fruitless searching, The Buccaneers had finally found their franchise quarterback. He set numerous franchise records during the course of the year, including highest QB rating in a single season (95.9), and fewest interceptions in a single season.

There was no team in the NFL younger than the Buccaneers, all their key offensive pieces were in their twenties, many of them under 25. The lockout that preceded the 2011 season was always likely to affect the inexperienced teams more than some of the older outfits, and that certainly seemed the case in Tampa. With a team built almost entirely through the draft they lacked experienced characters to hold together as a unit during a difficult year. Freeman suffered the regression that many had predicted for the previous year. His arm that had held the accuracy of a sniper rifle in ’10 had become a blunderbuss in ’11, spewing wildly inaccurate projectiles straight into the path of defensive backs across the league. He was picked off 22 times against just 16 touchdowns, including a 4 pick loss against the Bears, back at Wembley stadium, London, where he’d debuted a couple of years previously.

Having started the year 4-2, despite never playing particularly well, the Bucs hit a ten game slide, which ultimately cost coach Morris his job. Rumours that Morris had lost the dressing room flew around the league. Whether that was the case or not, the promising young Bucs suddenly looked a far less attractive outfit. As quick as a flash, the knives were out in Tampa, the doubters and critics swarmed from their hiding places to pour scorn on the Bucs young leader, and with a new head coach coming into town, the future seemed less certain for Freeman.

2011 wasn’t the total disaster that the results suggested though, Josh’s completion rate was up on the previous year (62.8% – a career high) despite being called upon to pass more as the Bucs trailed in so many games. Many of his picks came in the redzone, If some of those had been turned into points the year might have turned out somewhat differently.

Greg Schiano took over as head coach of the Bucs for 2012, having previously guided Rutgers to 6 bowl games (5 wins) and their first top 25 ranking in 30 years.

Schiano seemed impressed by Freeman when he took over, and stood by the young QB. He gave the offense some new weapons in the form of the sensational rookie RB, Doug Martin (Boise St) and veteran free agent Vincent Jackson (from San Diego). He’d be repaid by witnessing the Buccaneers finest offensive season in franchise history. Freeman passed for over 4,000 yards for the first time in his career, and 27 TD’s, a career and franchise record. The addition of Carl Nicks in the offensive line was a huge boost as well, and the addition of some veteran presence on the offense certainly bolstered the Buccaneers performances.

The Bucs 7-9 record certainly didn’t tell the whole story, they were in the playoff hunt until quite late on, and injuries took their toll and the team fell of the pace following a single point loss at home to Atlanta in week 12.

Freeman had an inconsistent year, between weeks 8-11 he was leading one of the leagues top 5 offensive units, and had thrown only half a dozen interceptions on the year, the slide that started against Atlanta seemed to ruffle him though, and his old troubles returned, culminating in a 4 pick (and 1 fumble lost) 0-41 disaster in the Superdome against New Orleans.

So as we head towards 2013, where does Josh Freeman stand? The Buccaneers have gone public, saying that they won’t negotiate a contract extension yet (he has one year remaining on his deal) which certainly suggests that they’re not totally sold on him yet. His franchise records and many of his performances certainly warrant them thinking long and hard before letting him go, and the relatively poor draft classes coming up would restrict the Bucs chances of getting a young upgrade. Yet the inconsistencies are undeniably there in his game. Whilst his deep ball has improved immeasurably during his 4 years in the league, he does still struggle with the quick, dink and dunk plays, and some of his decision making is truly baffling at times. His scrambling ability is excellent, yet sometimes this causes him to hold on too long trying to extend plays and taking big sacks.

Josh Freeman, above all else, is an enigma. Undoubted talent, a truly excellent physical specimen. Yet one with numerous flaws. For what it’s worth, I think the Bucs should start negotiationg a new deal for number 5, and let him mature fully, whilst giving him an offensive line that lets him do his job. Freeman’s part of the deal has to be to knuckle down and work on his weaknesses, those 4 and 5 yard passes don’t need to be launched like the famous cannonfire at the Raymond James stadium, a little softness, some touch would go a long way. The organisation are right not to have jumped straight into a new deal, there is still time to evaluate, but they should be wary of letting him go. The people have Tampa have waited a long time for a quarterback like Josh Freeman. Sadly it would be just like that franchise to let him walk out the door in a years time.