Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman took time out from his Josh Freeman ProCamps youth football camp at Wesley Chapel High School to talk some Buccaneers football on Saturday. New head coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan want to establish a rushing attack as the team’s primary objective on offense each game, but don’t necessarily expect the Bucs to become a run-first team, according to Freeman.
“There is something to be said for balance. If you can run the ball and throw the ball it opens up a world of opportunity,” Freeman said. “The play-action pass is a huge part of Coach Sullivan’s offense. He does an awesome job. We have unlimited possibilities as far as a play-action game. I’m definitely excited about the new weapons we have and also about getting in this new system.”
Some of those new weapons are wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who was signed to a five-year, $55.5 million contract this offseason, and running backs Doug Martin, a first-round pick, and Michael Smith, a seventh-round pick, both of whom bring speed to an offense that was clearly lacking big-play ability in 2011.
“Michael Smith and Doug Martin, those guys are so talented,” Freeman said. “You want to get the ball in their hands, get them in space and let them make some moves and make something happen. Like anybody coming out of college and into the NFL, there is a lot more that goes into it, whether it is protection schemes or so many different calls that you didn’t use in college. They are both really smart and picking it up. They are doing a great job.”
LeGarrette Blount has looked great in the offseason and has been taking the first-team reps at halfback. Blount seems to have some extra motivation because of the increased competition for carries with the arrival of Martin and Smith. But Freeman said that Blount isn’t the only holdover running back that is opening eyes.
“Obviously LeGarrette is having a good OTA (period) for us, but one guy, Mossis Madu, that guy is shredding it right now,” Freeman said. “He is doing an awesome job. He played at Oklahoma. He’s a great talent. Our backfield is going to be great. We have LeGarrette and we have Doug. I’m excited about the backfield.”
Madu enters his second year in Tampa Bay after spending several weeks on the practice squad in 2011 after impressing the team in the preseason. When he got an opportunity to be promoted to the active roster last year, Madu saw action in nine games, rushing for 55 yards on 15 attempts and catching 10 passes for 72 yards.
Freeman wants the team to establish a running game because when Blount was averaging five yards per carry in 2010, the franchise quarterback was throwing a career-high 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Freeman wants to get back to those numbers after throwing a career-high 22 picks and only 16 touchdowns a year ago, but isn’t consumed by the quest for great statistics.
“It’s about winning point blank,” Freeman said. “If I go out and stink it up and we win, I’ll be a lot happier than if I go out and throw for monster numbers and we lose. That’s what this league is all about. Coach Schiano obviously loves the running game. I love the running game. It’s so great. There’s no better feeling than when LeGarrette or any of our guys are out there tearing it up and you can sit back and pick apart a defense that’s worried about stopping the run.”
When asked to throw the ball, Freeman may have the deepest group of receivers in team history outside of the Super Bowl year when the Bucs had Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius when it comes to overall talent.
“Obviously Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are freaks. They are tremendous talents,” Freeman said. “Another guy that is just unbelievable – and I’m so happy and so excited about this guy’s progression with how he has come out and performed – is Preston Parker. He’s been unbelievable. And we have Arrelious Benn and Tiquan Underwood, who was a guy I traded with for the combine. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s really fast and runs sharp routes. Arrelious is doing an awesome job. Sammie [Stroughter] is doing awesome – and so is [Dezmon] Briscoe.”
Throughout the majority of OTAs, Parker and Stroughter have been running second team behind Jackson and Williams, with Benn, Ed Gant, Underwood and Briscoe all rotating with the third team. Yet it’s clear that Parker is establishing himself as the team’s third receiver on the depth chart by doing some great work in the slot.
Parker, who was rewarded with a two-year contract extension this offseason, is coming off a breakthrough year in which he caught 40 passes for 554 yards and three touchdowns after hauling in just four receptions for 42 yards as a rookie in 2010. Parker, who had two catches over 50 yards last year, became one of Freeman’s go-to guys when the Bucs needed to move the chains, with 25 of his 40 catches going for first downs.
With the Bucs only keeping five or six wide receivers at least two players from the group of Stroughter, Benn, Briscoe, Underwood and Gant won’t stick on the 53-man roster this year.
“[Backup quarterback] Dan Orlovsky said, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a top five or six receiving corps that is this solid,” Freeman said. “Everybody can go out and everybody can do it. I’m really looking forward to getting out there and doing it. Then you add [tight end] Dallas [Clark] to the equation – that guy is good. He’s real good.”
While Freeman threw 551 passes last year, which was the third-most in team history, many of those came as a result of the Bucs quickly falling behind in the first half and the team having to abandon the running game in order to play catch up.
“What people don’t realize is that, the past few years, other than a few games where we had to throw it out of necessity, we weren’t really a huge throwing team,” he said. “We’d throw it 25 times a game.
“[Former offensive coordinator] Greg Olson wasn’t super pass-heavy. You’d think he was because he had such an intricate passing system and he kind of took a lot of [Jon] Gruden’s stuff and made it his own. But we didn’t really throw it that much.”
Throwing the ball over 500 times could likely result in a finish similar to last year’s 4-12 record for Freeman and the Bucs. Achieving balance on offense with a strong running game and using play-action passes to create one-on-one situations is what Freeman, Sullivan and Schiano aim to do in 2012.
“With a new system it’s always interesting, but I would say we’ve made some tremendous strides,” Freeman said. “We are nowhere near where we want to or where we are going to be, but we have a great plan in place and guys that are dedicated to coming in and working hard. We’re going to put in a little scheme and who knows? It could be something special.”
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