Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman believes that he and his team are much improved from a year ago. Last season Freeman went 3-6 as a starter, and the Bucs had a 3-13 season, their worst year since 1991. After the team held their OTA (organized team activity) practices the Buccaneers are concluding their offseason program this week with their mandatory mini-camp. Freeman spoke about his personal improvement after the first practice on Monday morning.
"I think I'm a lot better in a lot of different ways, whether it's from a playbook standpoint or watching film," said Freeman. "We did a lot of physical work, a lot of fundamental work trying to improve accuracy this offseason."
Last year Freeman started nine games and completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 1,855 yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Freeman was sacked 20 times and had 10 fumbles, of which the Bucs only lost two.
To help Freeman improve in his second season the Buccaneers set about revamping their receiving corps this offseason to provide Freeman with more weapons. First Tampa Bay lost wide receiver Antonio Bryant in free agency. The Bucs traded a 2011 sixth-round pick for Eagles wide out Reggie Brown, and in the 2010 NFL Draft the Bucs selected two wide receivers, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Freeman believes that the receivers can have a quick impact and Tampa Bay has the ability to be an effective offense.
"Yeah. With the remainder of mini-camp and also training camp, I think that by the time we get to the beginning of the season they will be up and running," said Freeman. "I think we're going to come out and run the ball on a lot of people and then at the same time we're going to have quite a few weapons. Hopefully we can get these young guys going early in the season and have them as some major assets this year."
The Kansas State product Freeman has been a mainstay at the Buccaneers practice facility this offseason watching tape, mastering the playbook, and training for the season. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman has taken on a leadership role with the team and has impressed his teammates and on and off the field.
"I think, especially since he played a lot last year, usually the second year you play is kind of your biggest jump," said linebacker Barrett Ruud. "He kind of reminds me a lot of my second year starting too. He has a lot more control out there, knows what he wants to do, and you'll see he's working on things in practice to get better. He's not just going through the motions. He's trying things out. He's trying pump fakes. I'm sure he's watching other quarterbacks around the league and seeing how they play against the Cover 2 or Cover 3 and you can see he's trying to do those things on the practice field and seeing what works for him. I think he knows how to prepare now. I think he knows what he needs to do to get better and he's definitely doing that right now."
According to Buccaneers running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams, Freeman is getting pushed by some of the veterans on offense like Williams and center Jeff Faine.
"You know, the offense is about him," said Williams. "I think as a team we are all behind and him and we are pushing him, and he has done a good job in responding."
One of Freeman's new teammates has known him for years. Rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy played against Freeman in college with McCoy at Big 12 rival Oklahoma. McCoy thinks that before long Freeman will be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFC.
"He is the guy. Freeman is the guy," said McCoy. "I've actually known him since high school. He was my teammate in the All-American game, and I played against him in college. Now he's my teammate again in Tampa. I've seen a lot of great things from him, and he's going to be ready. He puts all the work, and overtime. He has no fear, that's what I like about him most. He started a good number of games but he wasn't the guy last year. Now he is the guy, and he has no fear. He's ready to take on all challenges. He's mobile on his feet, he has a big arm, and he's a smart quarterback. If he needs to get some yards and get out of bounds he can.
"Your quarterback is automatically your leader, especially if he is a good one. Freeman is going to be a good one. He has all the makings to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. I truly believe he will be, because of his talent and work ethic."
As Ruud suggested, Freeman has been studying other NFL quarterbacks while also learning other defenses. The Bucs second-year quarterback has learned league trends and has been studying the defenses of Tampa Bay's 2010 opponents.
"It's definitely film study and definitely self evaluation," said Freeman. "I'm also a reps guy, getting to see each look and going out and actually physically doing each rep and seeing the coverage."
Not only has Freeman been busy at One Buc Place this offseason, he also has gotten involved with a number of the Buccaneers community outreach programs. While getting out in town Freeman said he has received nothing but support.
"I have a lot of support within the community and it's awesome to know that your town is behind you and you're going out and fighting for your city every Sunday," said Freeman. "It's a good deal and I guess I just have to go out and return the favor for their support and win some games."
O'HANLON CLAIMED OFF WAIVERS
The Buccaneers claimed a player away from a division rival on Monday with the acquisition of safety Matt O'Hanlon from the Carolina Panthers. O'Hanlon was signed by the Panthers after going undrafted out of Nebraska. In his collegiate career O'Hanlon totaled 132 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks, seven interceptions, and 10 passes defensed. Last season O'Hanlon had six interceptions. The Buccaneers released backup safety Emanuel Cook last week.
Pewter Report's Eric Dellaratta and Andrew Scavelli contributed to this report.