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March 20, 2010 @ 10:30 pm
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Carlson: Balance Is Key To Improving Freeman's Accuracy

Written by Jeff
Carlson
Jeff Carlson

Jeff
Carlson

Contributing Writer E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
What does Tampa Bay second-year quarterback Josh Freeman need to do in order to improve his accuracy at the NFL level? Former Bucs quarterback and PewterReport.com contributing analyst Jeff Carlson explains Freeman's flaws and even compares and contrasts Freeman and other QBs 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
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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.


A lot can go into improving a quarterback's accuracy. Look at Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. He has four different coaches working with him f helping him become a better passer or thrower.


Tebow has terrible balance issues, which is one of the things Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman has to work on in order to improve his accuracy, which was 54.5 percent in his rookie year and 59 percent in three seasons at Kansas State. The good news is Freeman's balance issues aren't nearly as bad as Tebow's. They are worlds apart - Freeman is so much better than Tebow right now.

The only real way to improve Freeman's accuracy issues is to improve his balance. I don't know if Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson or new quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt know how to work on those balance issues or not because it takes a lot of time to study the throwing motion, ranging from where the elbow starts from all the way down to the hips and the knees. It's kind of like a golf swing. If a golfer releases his hips too early and gets out in front of the ball he or she is not going to hit the ball with anywhere near the power he or she would have had they stayed behind it and had the knee still bent.

I have doubts as to whether Tebow will ever get his balance issues corrected because they're so bad right now. He's willing to work on anything, but it doesn't seem like his coaches are working on that with him, and it's so important. Although it's not nearly as bad, Freeman has similar balance issues. Like Tebow, Freeman has to learn to bend his left knee before he throws the ball so he can be smooth as opposed to throwing completely off balance with a stiff knee.

Last year before a preseason game the television cameras showed Freeman warming up and the commentators said, "I've never seen a quarterback work that hard to throw that many balls before the game." But what we were seeing was terrible. Freeman's warm-up throws were so off balance, so if he's practicing that as his technique why would anybody expect anything different in a game when guys are rushing him and in his face?

There are two issues I see with Freeman, but one is minor compared to the other. If I were his quarterback coach I'd ask him to grip the ball down another notch lower; at least one thread lower. His hand is too big for where he holds it. He holds it too close to the back end of the ball. He's got a big hand, so if he moved his hand down another notch he'd be able to direct the point of the ball better. But as I wrote, that's minor compared to Freeman's stiff knee as he's releasing the ball. It's a very common mistake, but it's not that far off from being able to correct it, which is why I'm so excited about him. If his coaches know how to fix it and work with him on it, Freeman could have that issue corrected as early as this year. But it's important to remember that balance issues have nothing to do with decision-making - that's something the coaches and Freeman need to be working on in the film room and on the field together since the former first-round pick obviously made some bad decisions last year.

How difficult is it to teach an old dog new tricks, meaning trying to tweak, or in some cases, completely revamp the way a quarterback throws the football? The fact of the matter is it doesn't happen very often. Not many coaches try to coach mechanics. Most coaches just say, "You got yourself here throwing that way. I'm not an expert enough at throwing to tell you to do it differently." If you go through the 32 offensive coordinators and quarterback coaches there are only a handful of former quarterbacks. Mike Holmgren comes to mind, and Jim Fassel and Jon Gruden aren't in the NFL anymore. The point is most of the coaches try to coach the quarterbacks X's and O's, not mechanics.

Tebow is a great example of this. He's working with four different coaches, and he hasn't been given the keys to understand where his balance is going wrong. They're each teaching him something they learned along the way, but it doesn't seem like anybody is fixing the foundation or root problem, so what you're seeing there is Tebow is throwing with his feet crossed, which is kind of like a bowler's stance where he leans out to the side while he throws a heavy ball, so the back foot kicks out. He's so far off balance when he swings his left arm around to throw that his left leg goes back behind his right leg. That should never happen for any quarterback.

Freeman's issues are much more minor, but they are similar in some ways.  When Freeman pulls hard away with his head he pulls away to the left because he's right handed. When he pulls his head outside of his left leg and stiffens his left leg he's going to throw more side armed and extended, so he has to do other things with his body to avoid falling down while throwing. He's not extending his arm out to the target to throw accurately; he breaks his wrist and elbow when it should be extended out to overcome being off balance.

The reason why you see quarterbacks complete 60 or 70 percent of their throws at the college level and then see that completion percentage sometimes plummet to below 50 percent is because the quarterback, and even most of the players on that signal caller's team, are better than the competition. There's no better example of that than Tebow at Florida. In a college system the quarterback isn't reading a defense the same way he has to do at the NFL level. Tim Couch was Cleveland's top first round-pick several years ago, and he was a system guy at Kentucky. He threw a bunch of swing and hitch passes that help inflate his completion percentage to around 70 percent at the college level. In the NFL, Couch completed 59 percent of his passes and obviously wasn't as successful.

The other reason is because you have all-star corners on almost every team, which makes those throwing windows a lot smaller. You're having to read defenses differently as a drop back passer as well. There just aren't a lot of guys that have learned how to throw accurately while dropping back and reading defenses. That's why you see such a drop off and such a high failure rate for college quarterbacks at the NFL level.

The reads are a big part of the quarterback position in the NFL. "Okay, my number one receiver is covered. Now what do I do? Now I go to number two. How quickly do I transition from number one to number two? When number two is covered how quickly do I transition to number three, and do I even know who my number three guy is? And by that time am I being hit or am I able to get rid of the ball?" These are the things a quarterback has to know like the back of his hand while he's dropping back to throw and trying to throw with the proper technique.

I always go back to Tampa Bay's Super Bowl year when Jon Gruden wanted Rob Johnson to be the quarterback over Brad Johnson. Rob Johnson was more athletic, so he seemed more appealing to Gruden, but Brad Johnson had a great command for the offense and progressions. Brad Johnson was a great game manager, which made him a better quarterback. There were so many times that year when Brad Johnson got in trouble due to pressure, but always knew where his number three option was and got the ball out before he was sacked. Less experienced quarterbacks or quarterbacks that aren't as good will get sacked in that situation or take off and run. Because he was such a great athlete, Michael Vick would look for his number one read, and when he wasn't there Vick would take off running. Where you see the maturation process is in a guy like Donovan McNabb, who entered the league as a great athlete, but learned to run after looking for number one, two and three.

The reason Brad Johnson became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback was because he knew, "One, two, three, throw it away." He was consistent in that regard. A lot of young guys never get there. A lot of quarterbacks never get there, period.

Freeman is unlike a lot of the quarterbacks we see entering the NFL and being selected high in drafts these days. A lot of these guys have completed 60-something or 70-something percent of their passes in college, and then we see a drop off in the NFL. Freeman actually completed 59 percent of his passes at K-State, and he was in the 50-percent rage as a rookie in the NFL. Don't read too much into this. When I came into the league in 1989 50-55 percent completion percentage wasn't too horrific. It all depends on what type of offense you played in at the college level. In some of the offenses that existed 10 or 20 years ago there was no such thing as a shovel pass. I never threw a shovel pass in my entire career. Kurt Warner threw a lot of them during his. The shovel, swing and screen passes have increased completion percentages for quarterbacks. It's not always deceiving, but percentage can be deceiving. What kind of passes was Freeman asked to throw in college? Bottom line is Freeman can improve his accuracy issues if he fixes his balance issues and improves his decision making.

By Jeff Carlson as told to PewterReport.com editor-in-chief Jim Flynn.

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