Tampa Bay’s 22-year old quarterback, Josh Freeman, discusses what he accomplished during his rookie campaign, what is motivating him to have an even better season in 2010 as he emerges as the leader of the Bucs and why he thinks the Bucs can make the playoffs in this Pewter Report Conversation.
Although he had the highest completion percentage among rookie quarterbacks last year, he only completed 54.5 percent of his passes.
Although he threw for a Tampa Bay rookie-record 10 touchdown passes, he threw 18 interceptions.
Although he won his first game as an NFL starter, he only produced a 3-6 record.
Although he is only a second-year quarterback, his goal is to play like a fifth-year veteran this season.
Although no one is picking Tampa Bay to be a playoff team in 2010, he doesn’t see why the Buccaneers can’t make the postseason.
Josh Freeman hasn’t accomplished much yet in red and pewter, yet he has already become the team’s leader and the face of his franchise due to his tireless work ethic. Aside from a weekend here or there and a week’s vacation with some teammates in the Bahamas, Freeman hasn’t spent much time away from One Buccaneer Place since turning 22 on January 13.
Although the organized team activities (OTAs) didn’t start until late May this year, Freeman didn’t wait to get a jump on the 2010 season. He called Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter, interrupted their offseason and told them to get to One Buc Place to run routes and catch passes. Freeman kept bugging quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt for tape to watch. Freeman would sit in offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s offense and learn the offense and the protections so he could take the line-calling duties away from center Jeff Faine.
As Freeman’s seven months of offseason work came to a close, he sat down with Pewter Report publisher Scott Reynolds to reflect on his rookie campaign and what the 2010 season has in store for he and the Buccaneers in the Training Camp Issue. What do you feel you accomplished during your rookie season?
“I feel like I got a good feel for what NFL football is all about. I learned a lot from the standpoint of work ethic and what it takes to be a quarterback studying in the NFL. I also learned that we were able to win some games and get the winless monkey off our back.”Looking back, would you have preferred to start the entire 2009 season like Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford? I don’t think you were ready the way Raheem Morris and the Bucs handled the QB situation last year with Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich, but do you think that would have helped or hindered your development and where you are now as a quarterback?
“I’m a competitor. I wanted to be on the field. But at the same time, I realized that Raheem had a plan and they were hoping they could win some games at the start of the season. Nobody expects to lose games, and when you lose you are put in different circumstances. All in all, I’m a competitor, but at the same time I’m a team guy. I understand that going into the season that Raheem had a plan.”What made you want to return to One Buc Place in January and get started on the 2010 season so soon?
“The thought of being 3-13 – it’s terrible. I felt dirty. I felt like I needed to come work. I have the opportunity to come out and lead this offense this year. I don’t take it lightly. I want to come out and be productive and do a lot of good things to help us win.”What performances motivate you to be successful from a year ago – your five-pick game against Carolina and the New Orleans home loss or wins against Green Bay, Seattle and New Orleans.
“I think I get more drive from the Carolina game or the Saints game here where I put terrible stuff on film. I put a five-interception game on film. I couldn’t put a drive together other than the first one against New Orleans. I get a lot of drive from those. I am very passionate and I take a lot of pride on my performance. But at the same time, I think that those positive games are a big confidence booster. You’ve gone out and done it before – now go out and do it again. I definitely think that my motivation comes from a love of winning. I get really frustrated when things don’t go well because I expect things to go well.”I heard that you and Josh Johnson spent some time with Drew Brees in July thanks to Coach Olson. What did you take away from your encounter with Brees out there in San Diego?
“Drew is one of the guys that we watch a lot of film on and we try to model our game after. I’m just going to try to learn everything I can from him, whether it’s throwing the ball, reads or trying to get inside his head a little bit and figure out what has made him so successful in his tenure in the NFL.”You took a vacation with Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, Xavier Fulton, Michael Clayton and Sabby Piscitelli this offseason. Who arranged that and what did you take away from that experience? I saw a feature on ESPN about that and it looked like you guys had a lot of fun.
“I set it up. Originally, I was going to go on vacation with the offensive line as a late Christmas present. But there were a bunch of conflicting schedules, so we set it up one weekend and stuff happened. So I said, ‘Let’s go have a good time.’ There was one weekend where it was bad weather so we had to back it up even further. It was just a chance to see some of your teammates in an atmosphere that you normally don’t get to see them in. It was a good chance to see them in an off-field environment. I know Mike and Mo, and I know Sammie, but I didn’t know some of the other guys real well and you get to see all of them in a different setting out fishing. It was a great bonding experience. I got to know those guys a whole better.”You aren’t shying away from being the face of the franchise, are you? You’ve only played in nine games and won three of them, but this organization is pushing you out to the public as often as it can. How do you handle the pressure and keep it from getting to you?
“I feel like the most pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself, and the pressure the guys in my room put on me. It’s not negative pressure. I have a quarterbacks coach, an offensive coordinator and a room full of QBs that support me and have a lot of confidence in me. At the same time, they keep me level headed and they are always pushing me to be the best I can be. We have a very good room. At the same time, I want to go out and perform. I want to win games. I understand that this league is all about winning. The media and the marketing – they can do what they want with me. I understand that part of being the quarterback is going to come with that, but my heart and my mind are on the field.”The biggest knock on your ever-developing game is your accuracy, which you’ve gone to great lengths to try to improve. What percentage of passes have you been completing in the offseason work and what is your realistic, personal goal you are striving to achieve in 2010?
“As a quarterback unit – we take all of the reps and we put it together in the quarterback room – we’ve been just under 70 percent in practice. Personally, I want to complete enough passes to move the chains and win the game. Our goal is 65-68 percent. Anything higher than that is awesome. If you look at Drew Brees being over 70 percent passing, that’s really tough to do. At the same time you have to shoot for the stars if you want to get off the ground.”I’ve watched several of your practices this offseason and it looks like you are really taking care of the ball and limiting your interceptions.
“No doubt. It goes back to accuracy. I’m a year older and I’ve got another year in the system. I know the offense better. A lot of interceptions come and a lot of inaccuracy comes from being unsure and indecisive. You’re hanging in the pocket and you see a guy flash and then you get it out too late it’s going to be picked. If you understand the offense then you know where guys are going to be then you can set up your feet at that point and know when guys are going to break and put it right on them.”What receiver have you developed the most chemistry with this offseason? Stroughter has been catching an awful lot of passes from you.
“I have a great feel for a lot of the guys and that all comes with time and knowing each guy’s strengths and weaknesses. I feel like dating back to last year there is Mo, Michael Clayton and Sammie. Sammie is working the slot a lot and he’s running a bunch of option routes. I’ve really started to get a really good feel for Sammie in the slot.”It looks like you and Stovall have really formed a rapport on some of the downfield plays. I’ve seen you throw the ball up several times and let him make a play on the ball and almost every time he does.
“I like throwing to Mo downfield. I trust Mo. I know he’s going to be in the right position. If there is a jump ball I know Mo is going to come down with it or nobody is going to come down with it. Mo has a big body and I have a lot of confidence in him.”Rookie Mike Williams has made some amazing catches this offseason. I call him “Bailout” because no matter where a QB puts the ball, he can adjust his body to the throw and bail the QB out with a great catch like he did in the red zone against E.J. Biggers with that one-armed grab behind him during the OTAs.
“Yeah, I remember that one. Mike has a lot of talent. I just have to go work with Mike more and get a better feel for him. He’s picked up the playbook extremely fast. Now it’s just a matter of him fine-tuning his game and learning off his routes. He’s a big guy that has a big stride. Sometimes he’ll take a 12-yard route and stretch it to 13-14 yards. For the most part, Mike has done a tremendous job this offseason. Looking back to that end zone play where he made the great catch, everybody was pretty much covered. Mike had his guy pinned and I just put it out there. The guy was kind of pulling on Mike, but he just stuck one hand out there. It was pretty incredible.”Now that Greg Olson has had an entire offseason to implement what he wants to do instead of running Jeff Jagodzinski’s plays, what do you think the biggest difference the fans in the stands will see with the new offense?
“It’s going to be similar to last year, but we’re going to be able to use a lot more of Cadillac [Williams]. I think we’re going to keep it on the ground a lot with some high percentage passes and keep the chains moving. We’ll also push the ball downfield more this year. I expect us to score a lot more points than we did last year. That will be the biggest difference.”You have a very aggressive mentality when it comes to passing in the red zone, specifically inside the 10-yard line. Where did that aggressiveness come from? A lot of quarterbacks would just as soon pound it in with the running game than risk throwing it in such a truncated field.
“I trust my teammates and I trust the play. I just try to read the defense and get it out.”One of the most frustrating aspects of the play-calling last year from where I sat was not using your 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame to do more QB sneaks on third-and-short to pick up first downs. You were a master at doing that at K-State doing it dozens of times. The only time I recall it not working was at KU during your junior season when someone knocked the ball out of your hands at the goal line.
“We got into that late in the season last year. We had some stuff going on and we had Byron [Leftwich] out with his elbow. I can’t really say why we didn’t do it, but after we started doing it we made some first downs. I like running the ball. We’ll do more of that this year.”Speaking of our alma mater, K-State opens against UCLA in Manhattan. Have you and rookie defensive tackle Brian Price started the trash talking yet?
“Not yet, but I should probably get on it, though! We have to get them back for last year.”Having him in Tampa Bay instead of UCLA will help. What is it going to take for you, Price and the Buccaneers to make the playoffs in 2010? What has to happen offensively and defensively for you and your teammates to shock everyone and get to the postseason?
“We’re going to have to score more points than the other team! (Laughs) No, I mean if we go out and play our game and it comes down to that defining moment if we can take advantage of them and score some points and get some stops, I don’t see why we won’t be in the playoffs. I have a lot of confidence in our defense and Raheem, and I have a lot of confidence in Coach Olson and this offense. I think we can go out and turn a lot of heads this year. I really don’t see why we can’t make the playoffs.”
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