Beat Writer & Videographer
Over the final month of the 2010 season, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman was the league's top-rated passer, but he and his coaches think he can be better in 2011.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman made huge progress during his second season in the NFL – first full season as a starter – but saved his best football for when his team needed it the most.
With the Bucs in the midst of a playoff chase, the 22-year-old Freeman was masterful and led his team to a 3-1 record over the final month of the season, which allowed Tampa Bay to reach it’s goal of 10 wins for the year.
“I always talk about No. 5 and nobody is finishing stronger than him that last quarter of the season,” head coach Raheem Morris said. “Finishing that last quarter slightly behind Tom Brady in almost every category when you talk about that last quarter of the season. That’s a great guy you want to be compared to in this league, and I believe he told you that when he took over. Everybody wanted to compare him to his rookie classmates – [Mark] Sanchez and [Matthew] Stafford – and he said I really want to be compared to Tom and Peyton [Manning]. He put himself in that category in that last quarter of the season.”
Actually, Freeman was better than Brady, who is likely to be named the league’s MVP, over the final four games of the season. Brady completed 67-of-107 passes (63 percent) for 870 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions, while compiling a quarterback rating of 116.2. On the other hand, Freeman completed 78-of-109 passes (72 percent) for 1,009 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions for a quarterback rating of 127.8. He also had 73 yards rushing in those games as well.
Based on what he did over the final month of the season, one would think that Freeman has reached his full potential, but offensive coordinator Greg Olson thinks that Freeman can play even better in the future.
“I think he is getting better and when we drafted him we thought the ceiling was high,” said Olson. “We use the term project when we aren’t real sure, but we knew he had a tremendous amount of talent and we knew he had a really high ceiling, which we don’t think he has reached yet. He got better every week… and this year the comfort level certainly was much greater. We don’t see his play dropping off at all. When you look at the numbers he’s had, it will be difficult to sometimes match those numbers, but we think he can get better.”
The gaudy numbers that Freeman will try to improve upon in 2011 are these: 3,451 passing yards, 61.4 completion percentage, and 25 touchdowns vs. just six interceptions, which is among the best touchdown-to-turnover ratios in NFL history. Freeman said he was proud of the fact that he was able to keep his turnovers down this season after throwing 18 interceptions in nine starts as a rookie.
“Yeah, it was good. We set out a goal of mid-20s with five interceptions. It was six,” said Freeman. “You set lofty goals and we were that close but it says a lot about the guys I have around me. I had a good season, but I had Josh Johnson and Rudy [Carpenter] right there working with me everyday, watching film with me, and obviously, Alex Van Pelt. It is always a point of emphasis in our room to avoid interceptions and it started in training camp and a high completion percentage.”
With the lockout looming and all the uncertainty regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Freeman may not have an opportunity workout at One Buccaneer Place with his receivers and tight ends during the offseason. However, Morris has no worries and trusts that his franchise quarterback will put in the necessary work with his teammates to make sure everyone is one the same page heading into 2011.
“That’s a part of drafting Josh,” Morris said. “I have a feeling that what we’ve had to do around here in the past as coaches that we won’t have to because of that guy, who he is and what he wants to do. He’s got special goals for himself – lofty ones. Bold, arrogant, whatever you want to call them. A lot of that stuff will be on our quarterback. He’ll handle it. I have all the faith in the world in him.”
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