Former Bucs head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said in an ESPN conference call on Thursday, not only does he believe in Freeman, but he thinks Tampa Bay’s man-under-center will lead the team to a division title.
“I think this is the year for Tampa to win the division and return to the playoffs,’’ Gruden said. “I have a lot of confidence Tampa is going to be a very good football team this year.’’
Gruden went on to talk about Tarkenton’s and comments and what he likes in Freeman.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Fran Tarkenton,’’ Gruden said, “but I don’t necessarily agree with his comment on Josh Freeman. I’ve lived in Tampa 13 years, and I have studied Tampa Bay carefully for a lot of reasons. If you don’t think Josh Freeman can play, I think you’re making a huge mistake.
“He broke franchise records (passing yards, touchdown passes), and I’ve seen him do it at a high level. That means he can do it again. Not everyone agrees. I’m accused of being too positive and liking everybody, but I do like Freeman.”
Picking Tampa Bay to win the NFC South wasn’t only because of Freeman; instead Gruden said the Bucs have many pieces in place to make a run.
“They have a quarterback who has played well in this system and they have two great receivers in Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson,’’ Gruden said. “Their offensive line appears to be getting healthy, and if (Carl) Nicks returns, with Davin Joseph, that guard combination is as good as there is in football. The left tackle (Donald Penn) is a Pro Bowler.
“They have a running back (Doug Martin) that no one talks enough about. What a phenomenal rookie year he had. Defensively, I think we were signing defensive backs at the Pepin distributorship when I was coaching the Bucs, but when you bring in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson, you immediately become formidable in the secondary.’’
After winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers in 2002, Gruden spent the remainder of his Bucs coaching career trying to find his next Rich Gannon or Brad Johnson. Unfortunately for Gruden – and Bucs fans – it never happened and Gruden was fired after the 2008 season. Could things have been different had Freeman walked through the door while Gruden was head coach of the Bucs?
"I wish I had Josh Freeman,” Gruden said. “I’ll just say it like that.’’