Former Bucs quarterback and regular PewterReport.com contributor Jeff Carlson uses this column to discuss Tampa Bay's backup quarterback position and the development of former first-round pick Josh Freeman. You don't want to miss Carlson's expert analysis, which can be read in this column.
Jeff Carlson is a regular contributor to PewterReport.com. In his regular columns, Carlson will share expert analysis and insight regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL based on his previous playing experience with the Bucs and in the league.
Carlson played quarterback in the NFL from 1990-92. He spent two seasons (1990-91) with the Bucs and one season (1992) with the New England Patriots. The former Weber State signal caller originally entered the NFL as a fourth-round pick with the Los Angeles Rams.
Since his NFL playing career ended, Carlson has remained active and busy in the Tampa Bay area by heading up America's Best Quarterback, which is a clinic that trains quarterbacks privately or in groups in Tampa year round. To inquire about America's Best Quarterback, visit AmericasBestQB.com, e-mail
or call 813-789-9255.
In addition to his work with Americas Best Quarterback, Carlson is a regular host on Bright House Sports Network, which is PewterReport.com's television partner.
Everybody would agree that having a quality backup quarterback is important because at any particular time that guy might have to team is looking for behind its starter. One, you can get an old guy that has been around a long time that can come in and won't get rattled because he's got playing experience, so maybe he can manage a game or even save it for you. Or, a team can get a quarterback that can manage a bad situation, meaning maybe he has good mobility and athleticism, which might allow him to make things happen for an offense that might be struggling or just lost its starting quarterback. Ideally, it would be nice to have a little bit of both, but that combination is tough to come by.
Some have suggested that the Bucs need an upgrade at their backup quarterback position behind Josh Freeman, which might be true since we know the team will eventually part ways with Byron Leftwich. But I really like Josh Johnson, who is entering his third season in the NFL. He has a lot of potential and upside, especially when you consider the fact that he's so athletic and now has some valuable playing experience under his belt. The Bucs should be confident that if Freeman were to go down Johnson could step in, remain poised and used his athleticism, experience and mobility to manage the game.
Of course, the offensive coordinator has to adjust things accordingly for the backup quarterback. I don't feel the Bucs coaching staff did that for Johnson in the four games he started last year. He was given a limited amount of reps in training camp and during the season. Johnson was asked to deliver a lot as a starter last year, but based on what I saw Johnson do under those circumstances, I like him as the backup quarterback to Freeman heading into the 2010 season.
There isn't a lot available in free agency for the Bucs to find a substantial upgrade over Johnson, which is part of the reason why I'd be comfortable with him as the backup signal caller next season.
Let's take a quick look at some of the better quarterbacks that the Bucs could have a chance to acquire in free agency, which is a list that includes Marc Bulger (St. Louis), Chad Pennington (Miami) and Daunte Culpepper (Detroit). But before we look at each of those players, I'll say this - if you take all three of these quarterbacks and compare them to Josh Johnson, I'd take Johnson over some of these more experienced and perhaps more proven guys because of his upside.
Bulger is a timing and route guy. He fit into the Rams offense that was based on timing. After Kurt Warner left St. Louis, the Rams still were running a very smooth-operating offense that involved a timing route system. That requires a lot of anticipating from the quarterback, and like Warner, Bulger was very good at anticipating. But if you're the backup quarterback coming into a game, that is not the situation you're going to find yourself in. The odds of the offense running smooth and the anticipation being there are very slim for the backup quarterback coming into to what is probably not an ideal situation in a game. Bulger and Freeman are also polar opposites in terms of their stature and arms. Everything is very different, so it would be difficult to keep the offense the same for them.
Pennington is a good guy and one that has proven he can manage games well. I couldn't fault the Bucs for signing Pennington because he might be the best guy available to the Bucs in terms of a backup quarterback. Pennington is coming off another shoulder injury, which has to be a concern. It's already been rebuilt once, and you don't know how it will respond this time around. I read an article about Pennington last year how he watched Brett Favre and a few other long-term quarterbacks that throw the ball hard, and he tried to really become violent in his throwing motion, which was totally different than what he had been doing - Pennington was such a smooth thrower. Here's a 10th-year guy that's trying to change some of his technique and a significant part of his throwing motion, and the odds of that working out just aren't in the quarterback's favor at that point.
Culpepper is way past his prime. He's still an efficient guy and has a beautiful spiral. Culpepper was something special 10 or so years ago, but he hasn't been the same player over the last five years. Like the other candidates, I'd take Johnson over Culpepper as a backup quarterback because of his upside and potential.
There are some concerns about the Bucs not having an experienced veteran quarterback to help mentor the former K-State standout. Having that sounds good on paper, but it's a bit overrated and rarely happens like that in real life. The offseason is a huge part of the NFL today, and usually the veteran quarterbacks don't live in the city they play, so they're not around that much anyway with the exception of organized team activities. Plus, a veteran quarterback typically has a wife and a few kids, and a second-year quarterback still is a single guy - they have different lives, so the relationship isn't quite there.
When you get into the regular season, it's possible that there is some mentoring going on during practice and at the facility, but what people forget is the younger quarterback, in this case Freeman, has his quarterbacks coach in Alex Van Pelt, an NFL veteran that played the game and can share the same insights, advice and coaching points. He also has offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who will continue to work closely with Freeman.
What I saw from Freeman in his rookie year was an inconsistent quarterback all the way through, which is to be expected. He has tons of potential - I'd put him in the mold of Vinny Testaverde in that he is a big, strong-armed guy that has a lot of potential and can throw the most perfect ball in the world on one play, and then turnaround and throw the ball directly to the defender on the next play. We saw that throughout all of Freeman's games. From a technical standpoint, Freeman has some balance issues that need to be worked out. He throws off balance quite a bit, and it impacts his accuracy. However, I still believe he's got tons of physical potential, and the one aspect that can't be overlooked is Freeman's willingness to work on the mental aspect.
As far as Freeman's potential goes and him living up to that potential, it really goes to the NFL Draft, free agency and coaching. Freeman can do some great things in the NFL, but Olson and the Bucs coaching staff and front office must give him the opportunity to do those great things by coaching him up and giving him more weapons to work with. Even in the Jon Gruden era, the Bucs never had any great receivers to work with. Joey Galloway was great for his speed, but he wasn't a great playmaker or a number one guy that you could count on as a tough guy like a Steve Smith or a Larry Fitzgerald. Keyshawn Johnson was good, but he wasn't worth two first-round draft picks. I look at Keyshawn Johnson the same way I do Antonio Bryant - a good talent, but that talent was outweighed by taking away from the team concept.
And unless they add some diversity and some deception into their offense, the Bucs aren't going to do much of anything offensively at any particular time. Tony Dungy used to talk about how his team simply needed to do it better and execute better than the other team, but I don't think you win in the NFL consistently just trying to be better than the other team straight up mono e mono. As an offense, you have to deceive the other team a little, too.
But when it comes to Freeman having a veteran to mentor him and whether that is necessary, there might not be a better example than Troy Aikman in Dallas. He had Steve Walsh, another former first-round pick, playing with him, and both did terrible and the Cowboys were horrible in Aikman's rookie year. Walsh left and Jason Garrett came in a few years later. All three of us were in the same draft class in 1989. Garrett didn't even get drafted, but yet he was Aikman's backup quarterback from 1993-99. So was Garrett mentoring Troy Aikman? Aikman also had great coaching from Jimmy Johnson, Norv Turner and Earnie Zampese. That's a great example Bucs fans need to look at when discussing the importance of Freeman having a mentor. Remember - Johnson is actually one year ahead of Freeman in terms of years in the league, but he doesn't necessarily have to mentor Freeman, and Freeman doesn't necessarily need a mentor. He needs good coaching and good weapons around him.By Jeff Carlson as told to PewterReport.com editor-in-chief Jim Flynn.
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