Beat Writer & Videographer
Quarterback Josh Freeman will make his 16th NFL start this Sunday against the Cardinals. Freeman, 22, has come a long ways since being a rookie last season and his coaches and teammates have seen vast improvement from him.
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has come a long way since Tampa Bay drafted him in the first-round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He started his rookie season as the third option on the depth chart. Now, Freeman is the face of the young Buccaneers, and he is getting ready to make his 16th start in the NFL, which means he will finally have a full season of games under his belt.
Freeman made his debut last season at home against the Green Bay Packers. He completed 14-of-31 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. In that game Freeman led the Bucs to their first victory of the 2009 season and immediately showed why the Bucs spent a first-round pick on him. For the rest of his rookie campaign Freeman had his ups and downs, but it seemed as though Tampa Bay finally had a franchise quarterback.
Freeman finished his rookie year with 1,855 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions, while compiling a QB rating of 59.8. This season the numbers have improved across the board for Freeman and that is because he has progressed so rapidly in such a short period of time.
“He's definitely come a long ways,” said fullback Earnest Graham. “He started out as the basic person he is – a calm, cool, and collected guy. He has a lot of confidence and now with more experience he is starting to recognize all the looks that defenses give him, and he is able to react to all those looks. He is still maturing, but in big situations he has the upright confidence with his skill level and his ability to improvise to help us win. As a player he is really, really starting to understand the game.”
That better understanding has helped the 22-year-old Freeman put up some impressive numbers so far this season. In six games Freeman has 1,255 passing yards with seven touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has a QB rating of 82.8. Left tackle Donald Penn has seen a big leap from where Freeman was just one year ago and is excited to be a part of his development.
“You know what the funny thing is? [Yesterday] my son turned two. Watching [Freeman] grow is just like watching that boy grow,” said Penn. “He shows me something different everyday. He shows me something better and better everyday. I’m just happy that I’m able to watch him grow.
“It’s a work in progress, but we’re working. He’s taking big strides. I try to take little steps, but he’s taking big strides because he’s the quarterback – he has to. I love watching him. He is getting better and he is our leader.”
Just how much of a leader is Freeman? In just his second season, his teammates voted him as a offensive captain. Freeman has the Bucs sitting at a 4-2 record when many experts predicted four or five wins total for the 2010 season. The Bucs can thank Freeman’s right arm for most of those wins as he has led them to three fourth quarter comebacks. Penn attributes the success Freeman has obtained to the immense preparation and work that he puts in everyday.
“He’s here at six o’clock every morning with [Coach Olson],” said Penn. “And now he has the young guys coming in. He’s got Mike (Williams) and Arrelious Benn coming in with him too. That’s leadership. He’s taking all the right steps and doing all the right things, and it’s showing. We’re 4-2.”
The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Freeman is 7-8 as a starter, with five of those wins being fourth quarter comebacks. Normally young and inexperienced quarterbacks don’t have the ability to lead their team to victories in pressure-packed situations, but Freeman has grown into a player that excels during those times. Head coach Raheem Morris says he knew from the start that Freeman had something special in him.
“You know, Free is kind of getting old for me,” said Morris. “I’ve seen him do it in college, seen him develop, and I knew what he was so I’m not as surprised as everyone else to see him do well. For me it was kind of expected and that’s what I brought him in here for… I just proud and excited to see him continue to grow and find out what he can become.”
Graham has been around many quarterbacks during his eight NFL seasons. He says there aren’t many players with more skill or ability than what Freeman has.
“He’s just a complete player,” said Graham. “His size, his demeanor on the football field and the way he never quits on a play, his mobility and how when he gets outside the pocket his eyes are always down field, his ability to stop on a dime and make an awesome pass, and his overall skill level is better than a lot of guys that ever played this game. That’s why he’s experiencing success so fast.”
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