SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. IT’S TIME TO EXTEND FREEMAN’S CONTRACTBarring an injury that causes him to miss several games of the upcoming 2013 season, Josh Freeman is poised to become the most prolific quarterback in Tampa Bay history this year from a statistical perspective. Freeman is just 1,858 yards away from surpassing Vinny Testaverde (14,820 yards from 1987-92) and becoming the Bucs’ all-time leading passer.
With his last scoring strike of the 2012 season, an 8-yard TD to wide receiver Mike Williams in a 22-17 Week 17 win at Atlanta, Freeman threw his 78th career touchdown pass to move him ahead of Testaverde as the leader on Tampa Bay’s all-time TD pass list.
Of the top five quarterbacks in Bucs history – which also includes Testaverde, Johnson, Trent Dilfer and Doug Williams – Freeman’s touchdown-to-interception differential (78 TDs, 63 INTs) of plus-15 is better than QB other than Johnson, who threw for 64 touchdowns and 41 interceptions from 2000-04 – a differential of plus-23.
With 287 more attempts, Freeman will have thrown more passes than any other Buccaneer in history with 2,161. With just 26 more completions, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2009 will have 1,127 in his career, which will surpass Testaverde for the most in Tampa Bay history. That should happen by Week 2 of the 2013 season at the very latest.
Freeman set personal bests and franchise records for most passing yards in a season (4,065), most total yards from scrimmage (4,204) and touchdowns in a season (27) during a bounce-back year in 2012.
So what does topping Testaverde’s records mean for Freeman? Some will say nothing.
Like Testaverde, Freeman has yet to deliver the Buccaneers to the postseason or even make a Pro Bowl appearance. Even a lesser quarterback like Dilfer did that in 1997.
But the difference is that Freeman is an incredible physical specimen. He’s 6-foot-6, 235 pounds and blessed with a cannon arm that can make all the throws only a few quarterbacks can make. The best part about the total package that is Josh Freeman is that he just turned 25 in January, already has four years of NFL experience and has another decade’s worth of playing time left in the league ahead of him.
There were three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Freeman was the third of which, selected behind Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, who was the first overall pick, and New York’s Mark Sanchez. The Jets made a mistake by prematurely giving the overrated Sanchez an early extension after a few trips to the playoffs – thanks more to the team’s talented defense than Sanchez’s arm.
Stafford just received a three-year, $53-million extension this summer despite only producing one winning season with the Lions, which was a 9-7 record in 2011 that resulted in a humbling, 45-28 loss at New Orleans in the wild card playoff game. If Stafford received a contract extension after a 4-12 season in which the Lions lost the final eight games of the 2012 season, why not extend Freeman now?
At least Freeman is coming off a year in which he set personal bests and franchise records for passing yards, total yards and passing touchdowns while helping the Bucs offense rank ninth in the NFL, averaging 363.8 yards per game and scoring an average of 24.3 points, which ranked 13th in the league. Not to mention that Freeman helped newly acquired receiver Vincent Jackson and rookie running back Doug Martin make the Pro Bowl last season, while the Bucs improved from 4-12 in 2011 to 7-9 in 2012.
Freeman shrugged off the fact that he is entering a pivotal contract year in an interview on 620 AM WDAE on June 20.
“I have a great relationship with our G.M. and with our head coach,” Freeman said. “I’m not naïve. It is a business, but at the end of the day I try to look at it like I love what I do, I love who I’m doing it with, and I’m going to do whatever I can to be the best leader of this football team, the best quarterback and the best Josh Freeman I can possibly be.
“I’m a big believer in hard working paying off, and trust me. There is no one working harder than us. I’m telling you. I’m excited. There’s no added pressure. No nervousness. No anxiety. I know who I am. My guys know who I am. We all know what it’s about. Dude, I’m pumped up. There’s no anxiety. It’s all excitement. I’m excited about getting this year going and it has nothing to do with a contract year.”
Having said that, Freeman has also admitted that he plays better and has more focus when he has a clear head and his mind is at ease. When a rash of interceptions popped up during the 2011 season and down the stretch of the 2012 campaign it was because Freeman said he was pressing too much and forcing too many throws to try to make things happen too often, rather than taking what the defense gives him and displaying better patience.
What better way to ease Freeman’s mind and let him concentrate on football than to offer up a contract extension prior to the start of the regular season?
Freeman, who will earn $8.43 million in 2013, certainly doesn’t seem like the type of player that would suddenly become a fat cat with a new, lucrative contract extension. By the end of this season Freeman will have already made in excess of $26 million. He’s got a posh house in Tampa, a Ferrari and plenty of cash in the bank. Even though Freeman is already set for life, you can tell that this Midwestern kid doesn’t let money rule his world.
There is a chance that the contract negotiations themselves in August could prove to be a bit distracting, but what if losses mount early in the season? Will a pressured Freeman push too hard once again and try to force things happen, resulting in a season in a downward spiral and uncertainty about where he’ll play football in 2014?
The belief here is that if some unexpected losses happen and things don’t go according to plan, Freeman could more easily rebound without the added weight of a contract year on his shoulders. That’s just something to think about, Mark Dominik.
Freeman’s price tag would certainly come a bit cheaper today than it would in 2014 if he delivers Tampa Bay to the playoffs this year. That could help out Dominik down the road as he has to turn his attention towards possibly extending the contract of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who will make $10.295 million in the final year of his rookie deal in 2014.
There is not a love fest between fans and Freeman largely due to the fact that Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007, and the young quarterback’s occasional inconsistencies at the worst possible times in games or in the season. A part of the Bucs fan base is indifferent towards Freeman, which is stunning for a franchise that has largely been without a true franchise quarterback other than Freeman since 1976.
“I know this, there are a lot of guys that would take him today,” said new Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach John McNulty, who quickly became a Freeman fan. “He’s tremendously talented. He’s a great person. He’s football-savvy. He’ll do anything you ask him today. He just really needs to have a consistent structure around him as far as his system, his coaches and the people he can kind of rely on – the players he’s playing with. If that can kind of line up – that can kind of go for anybody – that helps.
“Honestly, I have not heard one person [in the NFL] say, ‘Yeah, good luck with him!’ Everybody I’ve talked to has said, ‘If you don’t want him I’ll take him!’ Those are guys [saying that] that have good quarterbacks and guys that are struggling.”
Williams received a well-deserved contract extension on Wednesday. Now both he and Jackson are under contract with the team together through 2017. Now it’s time to lock up Freeman as well.
There are no contract extension talks expected to take place between Dominik and Ron Freeman, Josh’s father and representative and Erik Burkhardt until the end of the 2013 season, which is a shame. Freeman could head into the 2013 campaign without it being a contract year, and the Bucs could conceivably land him at a cheaper price now rather than in January after a possible playoff berth.
With the arrival of training camp, Freeman pledges to do his best to focus on improving his game, the 2013 season and nothing else.
“I love being a Buccaneer,” Freeman said. “I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now I’m just trying to be the best Josh Freeman I can be whether it’s in the community, on the football field or in my personal life. I’ll let the rest take care of itself.”
FAB 2. FREEMAN CAN’T WAIT TO LINE UP WITH NICKS, JOSEPH AGAINOne thing that will definitely help Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman in his contract season is the return of Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph to the starting lineup.
The two massive offensive linemen only played parts of three preseason games together before Joseph was lost for the year against the New England Patriots last August with a torn ACL. Nicks saw his initial Buccaneers season come to an abrupt end due to torn ligaments in his toe after the seventh game in 2012.
While Jamon Meredith, Jeremy Zuttah and Ted Larsen filled in admirably and helped Tampa Bay’s offense rank ninth in the NFL by averaging 363.8 yards per game, the talents of Nicks and Joseph, whose combined contracts are worth $100 million, are far superior.
“When they are in the lineup our offense is about 100 pounds heavier,” Freeman said in a recent interview on 620 AM WDAE. “Their reputation speaks for itself. Davin has been a Buccaneer his whole career. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know Davin. Davin is a family man. Davin is a team-oriented guy. Davin is a leader on the team. Whether or not he got injured or has a captain’s patch or not, Davin Joseph is – and, in my opinion, always will be as long as he is a Buccaneer – one of the captains on this team.”
Joseph has been healthy for some time since undergoing knee surgery summer, but was held out of team drills during OTAs (organized team activities) and the team’s mini-camp as a precaution. Both he and Nicks have been cleared to resume full practice regimen at the start of training camp, and he will have to work on his chemistry with new right tackle Demar Dotson, who started 15 games last year playing beside Larsen and Meredith rather than Joseph.
Nicks was on his way to his third straight Pro Bowl before his season-ending toe injury, but is expected to come back with a vengeance in 2013.
“Carl is an interesting guy, and not because he’s so talented and so big,” Freeman said. “The guy is ridiculous, man. Carl had surgery on his toe and hasn’t lifted weights in three weeks and he comes in and sets the highest bench press max. It’s ridiculous. He might be able to bench more than I can squat. It’s ridiculous. He’s unbelievable.”
Freeman recalled a humorous instance during the preseason in 2012 when the Buccaneers’ “Wall” was intact with Joseph and Nicks blocking for him on a particular passing play.
“We’ve talked about pocket movement, working the pocket, stepping back and finding ways to subtly extend plays,” Freeman said. “We have a lot of focuses during the offseason, but that was one of them. We were going back and watching the cut-ups, and on a few cut-ups you had some from the preseason games. You look back and say we’ve made leaps and bounds as an offense first and foremost. But second, you look at ‘The Wall.’
“Those guys, I’m telling you – it’s unreal. There were times in the preseason last year where the first read was a little cloudy, the second read was a little cloudy, the third read was a little cloudy and the check down was a little cloudy. Taking off is your initial instinct, but I was sitting back there and I could have sworn I saw Carl just hugging two guys one time. It wasn’t holding, but he had both of them by the ‘V’ of their shoulder pads right at the top and he was just kind of squeezing them together. Those guys were fighting to get through and they couldn’t do anything about it.”
It’s hard to believe that Freeman passed for over 4,000 yards and Martin nearly rushed for over 1,400 yards without Joseph and with Nicks for only half the season. The Bucs can’t wait to see what the league’s ninth-ranked offense can do playing with both of its Pro Bowl guards in 2013.
“We’re going to win some games this year,” Freeman said. “The Bucs are going to be a force. I’m pumped up about that.”
FAB 3. THE HUMBLE TANDY IS AN EMERGING TALENT AT SAFETY AND PERHAPS NICKEL CBOne of the more interesting training camp battles is for the starting safety position in Tampa Bay’s dime defense between third-year veteran Ahmad Black and second-year player Keith Tandy. While starting safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are on the field in base defense, nickel and dime packages, the Bucs deploy a third safety in dime defense.
Last year, it was Black playing alongside Barron while starting free safety Ronde Barber moved into the slot and played closer to the line of scrimmage. This year, Barron will replace Barber in the slot in dime defense and Black will have to fend off a challenge from Tandy for the right to play next to Goldson when Tampa Bay deploys six defensive backs, which they did about 23 percent of the time last season. The Bucs played base defense 49 percent of the time and played nickel defense 28 percent of the time.
In his first extensive playing time, Black had a breakthrough year with 32 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a critical onside kick recovery in the fourth quarter in a win at Oakland. Tandy was mostly relegated to special teams duty where he made three tackles, and was limited to a few snaps on defense.
However, Tandy proved he was a playmaker in the preseason where he led the Bucs with 22 tackles (15 solo) and also had a pass defensed. Tandy’s 22 tackles were 10 more stops than the closest Buccaneers defender, which was his former teammate at West Virginia, linebacker Najee Goode.
While 22 tackles over four games is a signal of good production, what is even more impressive is the fact that Tandy recorded an amazing 17 tackles in the preseason finale at Washington.
“The main thing I’m trying to do is do my job out there,” Tandy said. “The rest of our guys in that preseason game were just doing their jobs. The plays happened to be funneled to me against the Redskins. When I had a chance to make the play I did. It definitely gave me some confidence going into the season. I can play faster this year with that confidence and knowing what I’m doing in the defense.”
Having a two-time Pro Bowler like Goldson in the meeting rooms and the defensive huddle has also provided Tandy with a wealth of knowledge.
“He’s been real helpful,” Tandy said. “He has us staying after practice and working on little things and making sure we are talking on every play. That’s the thing. We have a lot of young guys in the secondary. We don’t talk as much as we should and last year that hurt us a little bit. We busted assignments and didn’t have guys guarding the right guys.
“He’s helped a lot with that. He’s talked about his experience at San Francisco and the great defense they have out there. He tells us about certain things he has experienced that worked against certain offensive schemes. The biggest thing is communication out there on the field. When you communicate out there on the field it allows guys to play faster because everybody knows what they’re doing.”
While Black and Tandy might be the front-runners for the starting dime safety position, the team has other candidates, including Sean Baker, who recorded two interceptions and recovered a fumble at Washington in the preseason finale.
“There’s a lot more competition back there,” Tandy said. “I think guys are more confident and they are playing faster. That’s making everybody elevate his game and that will make our defense better. Right now we’re still learning about where everyone is going to fit back there in that secondary and it’s elevating everybody’s game. But it’s a friendly competition. Off the field we are talking to each other and watching film. It’s definitely helping us out and making everyone better.”
Tandy, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 205 pounds, played cornerback in college, so he has the cover skills to play man coverage in the slot against tight ends or wide receivers. That versatility could help him once again land a spot on Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster.
“With the limited number of guys you can have on a team, and the limited number of guys you can have active on game day, versatility is a plus,” Tandy said. “I’m playing a lot of different positions right now in nickel and dime defense, and we’re just trying to figure out where everybody fits in within the defense in order for it to be successful.
“I feel pretty good at safety right now. I want to get it to where I can feel good playing anywhere. I don’t play corner any more, but I know corner well enough to where I could play it in this defense if I had to. I know it well enough where I can also help a young guy out. It’s a new year and we have a lot of new people. We know we have a lot of talent right now and we’re working hard to be the best secondary we can be.”
In fact, Tandy is also getting a shot at playing nickel corner during training camp, and is being thrown into the mix with second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, Leonard Johnson, Michael Adams, Danny Gorrer and undrafted free agent Rashaan Melvin.
FAB 4. FRASER SAYS PASS RUSH WILL GET A BOOST FROM CLAYBORN, BOWERSExpectations are high for defensive ends Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn this season in Tampa Bay. The team needs Clayborn to rebound from a torn ACL that cost him most of the 2012 season and return to his rookie form when he led the Bucs with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. And it needs Bowers, the team’s second-round pick in 2011, to step up as a first-time, full-time starter at left end and rush the passer the way he did at Clemson, leading the NCAA in sacks with 15.5 and 26 tackles for loss as a junior in 2010.
While Bowers and Clayborn are penciled in as Tampa Bay’s starting defensive ends, they first to have to earn their positions in training camp.
“They are going to compete for their positions,” said Bucs assistant defensive coordinator Bob Fraser. “But they certainly have a leg up on their competition. They’ve played, but we’re going to have great competition with the new guys we have.
“With Da’Quan you take a look at Gerald McCoy. [Last year] was the first year Gerald played a whole season. He was injured before that. You could see what he was able to do. I think Da’Quan can do the same thing if he’s healthy.”
Bowers missed the first six games of the 2012 season due to his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon last April. When he returned to action it was in spot duty where he recorded 13 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and a pass defensed.
As for Clayborn, Fraser is not as familiar with him as his season ended almost before it truly began after suffering a knee injury in a Week 3 loss at Dallas. But Fraser has seen the tape of Clayborn’s rookie season in which he was a brutish force.
“Look at Adrian and what he was able to do the year before as a rookie,” Fraser said. “He played extremely well. He just had the unfortunate instance of being hurt. If he could come back to the form that he was a year ago I think it’s going to be great for him and for us.”
Inside the walls of One Buccaneer Place, the expectation for the tandem of Bowers and Clayborn is to combine for 20 sacks. Fraser wouldn’t publicly say how many sacks he expects from either player, but did say that having the duo back healthy for a full season will provide a boost to Tampa Bay’s pass rush.
“They are very similar, talented, explosive players,” Fraser said. “I really think we’re going to be good up front if they can stay healthy. They can help us tremendously.”
On Thursday, the first day of Bucs training camp, Bowers and Clayborn were spending time lining up at both defensive end positions. That’s one of the wrinkles the Bucs are looking at this season – having both Bowers and Clayborn being able to play either defensive end spot to confuse opponents and create the opportunity for some mismatches.
FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• Count Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman among those high on the talents of second-year tight end Danny Noble, who will be challenging Nate Byham and others for a roster spot as Tampa Bay’s third tight end in training camp. Byham was starting in place of the injured Luke Stocker on Thursday, the first day of Bucs training camp, instead of newcomer Tom Crabtree and Noble.
“We have a kid named Danny Noble, who is a young up-and-comer,” Freeman said in an interview with 620 AM WDAE. “He’s a got that last year played with a little bit of an injury. If he gets through camp obviously injury-free, and gets through the preseason he’s a kid that has a special sort of talent. I’d say he’s 6-foot-4, and about 250 or 260. He’s not the fastest, but he has upper echelon speed. He doesn’t have the best hands, but upper echelon hands. The kid makes some great catches. But once you get the ball in his hands though, his nickname is “Swag.” I don’t know where he got it from, but the kid has a little something to him. If we get through camp and if things go as you kind of see them going, I could definitely see him getting some quality time out there. Not necessarily quality time, but quality play. This kid knows how to get open. He knows how to make plays.”
The only problem is that the Bucs were high on Noble last year when he weighed 245 pounds as a receiving tight end out of Toledo. In an effort to bulk up and become a better blocker, Noble’s weight is over 260 pounds, and the team is concerned that he has lost some speed with the additional pounds.
• It’s interesting to note that the Bucs have no tight ends or wide receivers making at least $1 million in 2013. Because Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson restructured his base salary for 2013 in December of 2012 by taking the majority of the $13 million he was owed in the form of a roster bonus to help create cap room in 2013, the superstar will only make $840,000, which is the veteran minimum base salary. In fact, both Jackson and Derek Hagan are scheduled to make $840,000, which is the highest salary for any receiver or tight end in Tampa Bay this year.
• Even though newly acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis spent very little time on the field during the offseason at One Buccaneer Place doing little else other than rehabbing his knee with trainer Todd Toriscelli, the four-time Pro Bowler and former AFC Defensive Player of the Year made his presence felt with his fellow defensive backs.
“It makes a big difference with young guys like myself,” Bucs safety Keith Tandy said of Revis. “We see how hard he’s working. He’s always talking to us in the cafeteria and the meeting rooms with things he’s done in the past. Revis makes a big difference. When we are doing walk-thrus on the field he’s always in there taking his reps so that way he can get his mind right. Despite his experience, he’s learning this defense, too.”
• Second-year cornerback Leonard Johnson started ahead of rookie Johnthan Banks, the team’s second-round draft pick, opposite Danny Gorrer, who was filling in for Darrelle Revis during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills in Tampa Bay’s first training camp practice on Thursday. While Johnson performed well last year as a rookie, recording three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in six starts during 2012, he isn’t resting on his laurels and assuming anything in 2013.
“The roster change (the release of veteran cornerback Eric Wright) definitely put everybody in position to compete for more than one job,” said Johnson, who is competing for either the starting cornerback spot or the nickel cornerback role. “I’m just going to take it one day at a time. I’m not looking to do anything outside of myself. I’m going to come out and take care of my responsibility. I’m competing on the field and in the classroom.
“My mentality is to get better every day. My mindset is to come out and don’t worry about depth charts because at any moment they can change due to injury or lack of performance. If you worry about keeping a job, most likely you are going to lose track of everything else. I’m just looking to come out, have fun and compete. That’s my main goal. Even though it’s my second year, I’m still approaching it as if it’s my first year.”
• In case you didn’t see that Pewter Report partnered with 98.7 The Fan this week, he’s a link to that story. Pewter Report is excited about the opportunity to share our insight and analysis with the vast 98.7 The Fan audience and will be making regularly scheduled appearances every day of the week through Buccaneers football season. Here is quick look at the line up of Pewter Report appearances:Monday – Booger and Rich with Scott Reynolds – 4:00 p.m. ETTuesday – The Fabulous Sports Babe with Mark Cook – 9:20 p.m. ETWednesday – Fan Interference with Mark Cook – 10:00 a.m. ETThursday – Kirk and Dinger with Scott Reynolds – 8:00 a.m. ETFriday – Booger and Rich with Scott Reynolds – 4:00 p.m. ET
Podcasts will be made available later in the day on PewterReport.com so Bucs fans can listen in if they missed the live broadcasts on 98.7 The Fan.
• And finally, Pewter Report’s official Training Camp Get2gether will take place on Saturday, August 17 at The Grille at Westchase from 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET and feature special guest Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik along with Pewter Reporters Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook and new Bucs beat writer Gil Arcia. This Training Camp Get2gether event is free and open to ALL Bucs fans. However, the first 25 Pewter Insider subscribers in attendance will receive a FREE Pewter Report T-shirt.
Dominik will be on hand to answer the questions from Bucs fans and talk about Tampa Bay’s preseason game against New England from the night before. There will be free snacks and soft drinks/tea, and discounted menu items and drink specials for all PewterReport.com visitors in attendance.
As always, there will be some fantastic prizes given away, such as two tickets in Pewter Report’s luxury suite to the Bucs’ preseason finale on August 29 against Washington, an authentic Bucs helmet signed by legendary DB Ronde Barber and other autographed memorabilia.
While this Pewter Report Training Camp Get2gether event is free, space is limited and reservations are required. Bucs fans and PewterReport.com visitors MUST RSVP by e-mailing [email protected] with their Pewter Report username and the number of people that will be attending.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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